Review: Veniss Underground, Jeff Vandermeer

veniss-underground Any crime writer or reader that thinks nothing can be learnt from writers outside of the field, particularly in other sub-genres, has sorely missed the joy and necessity of reading widely. Jeff Vandermeer shows how a sense of place completely alien to the world we know can be rendered with absolute clarity and wonder at the same time.

Nicholas, a washed-out holo artist, is desperate to secure the patronage of a mysterious man only known as Quin who, through biological engineering, creates fantastic creatures to serve the city-states of Veniss. When Nicholas disappears, his twin sister Nicola launches a frantic search for her brother which brings her and her former lover Shadrach ever closer to the ultimate truth behind Quin and the dank subterranean world of Veniss Underground.

Many years ago I happily walked away from fantasy, thinking the genre had reached its pinnacle with Lord of the Rings and was now deadly repetitive. But Vandemeer’s vision debunks all my preconceptions and exposes my hubris in thinking the genre has nothing new to offer. Mixing fantasy with science fiction and adding a hefty dash of the Kafkaesque, this author produced a haunting and beautiful tale. It helps that he has kept the story short; if it had been any longer one’s willingness to suspend belief would have been sorely pressed. What makes this novel especially intriguing is the author’s style and language: it is playful and poetic, while remaining streetwise and gritty. There isn’t a lot of character development – a problem that’s endemic to a genre that focuses on place – but Vandemeer has more than enough made up for it with a breath-taking and phantasmagoric world.

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