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The Erstwhile

(The Vorrh Trilogy #2)

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  1,010 ratings  ·  99 reviews
In London and Germany, strange beings are reanimating themselves. They are the Erstwhile, the angels that failed to protect the Tree of Knowledge, and their reawakening will have major consequences. In Africa, the colonial town of Essenwald has fallen into disarray because the timber workforce has disappeared into the Vorrh. Now a team of specialists are dispatched to find ...more
Paperback, 480 pages
Published March 7th 2017 by Vintage
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Hannah Yes, you need to read The Vorrh before The Erstwhile. It's the first book in the series.

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Average rating 3.98  · 
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 ·  1,010 ratings  ·  99 reviews

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Jul 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: fantasy, fiction
I was rather underwhelmed by The Vorrh, which didn’t quite evoke the haunting forest of doom I’d hoped for. My subsequent decision to read 'The Erstwhile' nonetheless was due to three factors: a recent fondness for fantasy series, the discovery that Ada Palmer’s demanding Terra Ignota series suddenly became very enjoyable about 200 pages into the second book suggesting the possibility of a similar phenomenon with the Vorrh trilogy, and a superficial liking for the cover with its morose monster. ...more
Ian Scuffling
Last year I read The Vorrh, an ephemeral dream of a book that took inspiration from Roussel's Impressions of Africa to create a new mythical fantasy set in the early 20th century. The Vorrh, an infinite forest in the heart of Africa, fabled to have the Garden of Eden at its center, deteriorates the minds of men who spend any amount of time within it. Populated by cryptozoological beasts of Catling's own creation, and some built on historical legend, The Vorrh is the first book of a planned trilo ...more
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: sci-fi
Catling really expanded and layered the established mythology of The Vorrh in a continually well written and exciting way. While this book was less of the wide-scope, epic that The Vorrh was, it felt like a story that took advantage of the previously grounded world and focused in on points and characters that mattered with an awesome and well-earned ending. Catling also continues to be a master of his poetic prose that feels like the only suitable way to tell these stories from the edges of the ...more
Jul 31, 2017 rated it liked it
While The Vorrh smashed my expectations, I think I went into The Erstwhile expecting too much. I wanted an expansion of storylines that were ultimately left open-ended - where is my finale with the Sea-People receiving whatever message was to be given to them, and where is Nicholas, and what happened with Sidrus and Oneofthewilliams, and where on earth is Gertrude's daughter??? - and spent, in my opinion, far too much time on Ishmael and the Ishmael/Cyrena/Gertrude drama. I grew really, really t ...more
Mar 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Ok, this is sort of a review for the first two books of this series, The Voorh and The Erstwhile. I am a lifelong scifi and fantasy fan, I mean...39 of my 44 years. But I have a weird relationship with "weird" fiction, it's like you meet a girl at the grocery store, she's got blue hair..sorta cute then bam, before you know it, you wake up a month later and wonder why you have a half elf in your bed.

Bad analogy, but its like beautiful language, well written and grabs you in spots. Then, it trails
Jun 08, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: audiobooks
I wished I had loved it.
But nope. While I like the world it is set in, the undramatic pacing and the tone of the book, time and again, everything in me screamed "old white dude sex fantasy"!
I scrapped it when a male character was offered a sex slave as a gift because I had no interest in finding out where that goes. The portrayal of the few other female characters had me expecting nothing good.
On that note... diversity. Most of this and the first book is set in an colonial city somewhere in Afri
Jun 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novels, surreal
Magnificently weird. Lives up to the promise of The Vorrh without feeling like it's simply retreading the same fantastical grounds. These two are among the best novels I've read in recent years.
Oct 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Good GOD I hope there's another book that follows this. Catling is just too good! My head exploded again throughout this book (like it did the entire time I was reading it's predecessor, The Vorrh). I honestly wish I was smarter because these books are so loaded with obscure and wonderful references to literature, art, science, history, religion... there are sections throughout the book that while I was reading I knew there was even more to glean from it that I was already getting if only I coul ...more
Jun 20, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a lesser work. That which precedes this one is so much more: more dynamic, more fluid, more mysterious, more ethereal. And this? The ingredients are present and even familiar. There are hints, vague tastes of the previous, scenes and characters we clamor to know more about, our appetite whetted, tongues whisking our lips waiting to once again delve into the strange beauty of Catling's world. But, alas. We are disappointed. The flavor is all wrong. Undercooked or overexposed. Perhaps both ...more
there was something about this that didn't grab me quite like the vorrh but i still literally carried this everywhere i went for two days and read it every spare moment i could find. i think i miss some of the surprise reveals of the vorrh? and somehow despite being even more supernatural the magic feels less... mystical. definitely loved it however. it and its predecessor are essential reading for literary fantasy magical realism folktale nerds
Jul 01, 2017 rated it did not like it
Im confused for why I picked this up. I wasnt the biggest fan of the 1st novel. There were parts that amazed me but then more parts that were dull/slow. Again with this book 2, I found majority of the novel just ramblings but again written beautifully. Dont think I'll read anymore by this author, too much confusion, and felt like a chore to finish.
Justin Coke
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Remarkable book; I've been around the block when it comes to fantasy. I rarely feel like I'm reading something I haven't read before, but I got that feeling with the Erstwhile. I don't usually stay up late to finish a book; I did with this.
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it
For a book about a massive Edenic forest--it appears the the books, author, Brian Catling gets lost within the leaves into the follow-up to the impressive Vohrr.

The Vohrr was one of my favorite novels of the year when I read it--dense and almost impenetrable it consisted of many "non-submersible units". Images and characters that served in achors in a plot that was stormy and chaotic.

What's frustrating here now, is that all the characters I felt so invested in within the previous book often ha
Mason Jones
Nov 23, 2017 rated it liked it
First thing: don't read this before you read Catling's prior volume, The Vorrh, or you'll be quite lost and miss out on a lot of the richness that comes from the first book. Second thing: this book ends but doesn't bring to a close any of the stories threaded throughout, so just assume that you'll be left waiting for the next volume. In any case, if you enjoyed The Vorrh you're likely to enjoy this one as well, though there are differences in how it's assembled. Catling's writing remains poetic ...more
May 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy
These books published by Brian Catling are a strange beast. They are too weird to ever become a great success and compete with mainstream epic fantasy series, but other artists hold them in high regard and they gather high praise. Catling is an artist in the modern art scene where he creates sculptures and does performance art, and only recently did he start writing books. So, when he suddenly burst into the scene a few years back, critics were amazed by his striking prose and feverish imaginati ...more
Oct 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
Do I feel any better after reading this than after the Vorrh?

Have the characters grown more interesting, sympathetic, or at all likeable?
Not particularly.

Is the story still batshit, strange for the sake of strangeness, and largely directionless?

Did I enjoy reading it?
Eh... Enjoy is a heavy word.

Did I, however inexplicably, read this straight through, regularly and compulsively?
Sure did.

Do I care how the trilogy will end and expect any of it to be wrapped up in a rewarding way?
Jan 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Perhaps not as intoxicating as the first volume, this is still working through the same set of bizarre and often sublime assumptions, whereunder we must recall that "the mythic and the pragmatic go hand in hand" (70). In that connection, the setting has developed into the interwar period, wherein characters notice "a discreet badge," seen "more and more recently," indicating "a new political devotion" (104) (plainly the (view spoiler)).

Very much this setting is haunted by t
S. Elizabeth
May 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Having adored Catling’s The Vorrh, I had high hopes for it’s successor, The Erstwhile… but even weeks after finishing it, I am still terribly disappointed and confused. I think perhaps it may suffer from middle story syndrome (I believe it is to be part of a trilogy?) Absent was the thrilling writing that so captured my imagination in The Vorrh, and which urged me to re-read the same beautifully crafted passages over and over again, as the exquisite prose invited second, and–sometimes–third look ...more
Eli Wilkinson
May 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A word of caution, this book has to be read after Carling's The Vorrh or it will make zero sense.

My five stars were given because I love this series' prose, but Erstwhile does suffer from middle story syndrome as far as plotting and action go. Very much looking forward to the 3rd book.
Alex Sarll
It's always tricky for the second novel in a series to feel as strange and new as the first, even more so when the first began as a purely cult concern and the second garnered broadsheet reviews. But still, this feels a much lighter read than The Vorrh, more like a romp through gentle woodland than hacking through the primordial jungle. There are fewer plot strands, more obviously connected to each other; even the European story this time has a more immediately apparent bearing on events in Afri ...more
Joe Kraus
Sep 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fantasy-sci-fi
In retrospect, it’s easy to see that the first volume of Brian Catling’s trilogy begins with a transformation of the feminine into the masculine. In the first, amazing scene, a dying priestess is transformed into a living bow – the very essence of the male symbol, derived as it is from Apollo as archer.

This second volume begins with the reverse. One of our male characters, discovering an abandoned infant, suddenly grows breasts in order to feed it. And we have, as well, our bow disintegrating it
May 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Highly imperfect yet wholly, brilliantly original. Five stars for sheer imagination alone, despite its flaws.
Ian Casey
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Vorrh was such an oddity that I appreciate it for its sheer uniqueness. It was a weird and at times surreal fantasy novel that largely ignored any and all fantasy fiction published after the 1920s. Even though I had mixed feelings about it in its totality, it was remarkably refreshing to read something so far removed from trends or tropes (modern fantasy tropes, at least).

What then of its sequel? The Erstwhile is assuredly a 'middle book' of a trilogy in the classic sense. Some storylines co
Wing Kee
Aug 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Much more traditionally structured but because of that loses a lot of it's original charm.

World: The world building is great, it is the best thing in the series and the reason I continue to read the book. The ideas that Catling bring to the world, the characters, the lore, the period, it's all pretty fantastic. Like the first book there is a lot of meta textual narrative that is found here with Germany and UK during that area and the tensions, there is the white colonialism that gets further exp
Walter Mitchell
Jul 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
Picking up The Erstwhile, unaware there had been a sequel, I found myself remarkably excited to rejoin the characters of The Vorrh despite all the complaints I'd registered with them, often out loud to my patient girlfriend.

And for a while I wasn't disappointed -- Catling (or maybe his editor) wisely placed a focus on recapping past events, so diving back into the convoluted plot was more fun than frustrating. Catling has a strength for small, memorable details that grow into a world from one t
Jan 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Legend said they were the angels that God put on earth to guard the tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. And when Adam committed the first sin God was furious with them for their dismal failure. He turned his back and forgot them.” - Brian Catling

Brian Catling is an English poet turned prose writer in his autumn years. He - as far as I am aware - made the world aware of this transformation via the publication of The Vorhh a couple of years ago and as I do not really have the ear for poetry
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
[3.5 stars] Similar sins to the first, perhaps at times more blatant in its sexism and racism. Does not feel wonderfully edited and could demonstrates how much of an old white man echo chamber the publishing world can be. How Catling has managed to set a book in Africa with barely any black characters managing to avoid writing about a single one past page 30 is beyond me (worse than even the first book). That being said as 'a feverish epic' (Alan Moore's words not mine) it does contain moments o ...more
Bryan Szabo
Mar 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantasy literature for those us (myself included) who don't want to escape to far-off worlds or magical worlds of dragons and dragon-slayers but, rather, want (like the Erstwhile) to nestle deep within the bosom of this earth. The Vorrh is an otherwordly place to be sure, but it stands on the shoulder of this one. This is not plausible fantasy—far from it. It does, however, draw on human history and myth, blending and binding them in ways that few authors have even attempted.

The second book, li
James Roberts
Jul 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m fascinated by this series. Neither this nor its predecessor were in my power to put down. Though decidedly less opaque than The Vorrh, The Erstwhile manages to build upon Catling’s vague foundations beautifully. Here, Catling uses his poet’s sensibilities with a surgical precision, infusing the work with just enough of his bizarre, imaginative prose that made The Vorrh so entrancing to keep you on your toes while simultaneously allowing your a clearer view of his haunting world. Lingering qu ...more
Philip Shade
Jul 21, 2017 rated it liked it
What is it with publishers not listing that a book is the second in a series anywhere on the cover, or jacket blurb? While I really enjoyed B Catling's poetic and painterly prose, I was continually hamstrung by the fact I hadn't read The Vorrh. While the Erstwhile has a story that surrounds you like a great forest full of mysteries, discoveries, and fearful creatures; it also refers back to it's preceding book regularly.

That said The Erstwhile is a fever dream of a book if there ever was one. F
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Also publishes as B. Catling.

Brian Catling was born in London in 1948. He is a poet, sculptor and performance artist, who makes installations and paints egg tempera portraits of imagined Cyclops. He has been commissioned to make solo installations and performances in many countries including Spain, Japan, Iceland, Israel, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Germany, Greenland and Australia. He is currently

Other books in the series

The Vorrh Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Vorrh (The Vorrh Trilogy, #1)
  • The Cloven (The Vorrh Trilogy #3)

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