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Hummingbird Salamander

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From the author of Annihilation, a brilliant speculative thriller of dark conspiracy, endangered species, and the possible end of all things.

Security consultant “Jane Smith” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues leading her to a taxidermied salamander. Silvina, the dead woman who left the note, is a reputed ecoterrorist and the daughter of an Argentine industrialist. By taking the hummingbird from the storage unit, Jane sets in motion a series of events that quickly spin beyond her control.

Soon, Jane and her family are in danger, with few allies to help her make sense of the true scope of the peril. Is the only way to safety to follow in Silvina’s footsteps? Is it too late to stop? As she desperately seeks answers about why Silvina contacted her, time is running out—for her and possibly for the world.

Hummingbird Salamander is Jeff VanderMeer at his brilliant, cinematic best, wrapping profound questions about climate change, identity, and the world we live in into a tightly plotted thriller full of unexpected twists and elaborate conspiracy.

351 pages, Hardcover

First published April 6, 2021

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About the author

Jeff VanderMeer

225 books13k followers
NYT bestselling writer Jeff VanderMeer has been called “the weird Thoreau” by the New Yorker for his engagement with ecological issues. His most recent novel, the national bestseller Borne, received wide-spread critical acclaim and his prior novels include the Southern Reach trilogy (Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance). Annihilation won the Nebula and Shirley Jackson Awards, has been translated into 35 languages, and was made into a film from Paramount Pictures directed by Alex Garland. His nonfiction has appeared in New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Atlantic, Slate, Salon, and the Washington Post. He has coedited several iconic anthologies with his wife, the Hugo Award winning editor. Other titles include Wonderbook, the world’s first fully illustrated creative writing guide. VanderMeer served as the 2016-2017 Trias Writer in Residence at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He has spoken at the Guggenheim, the Library of Congress, and the Arthur C. Clarke Center for the Human Imagination.

VanderMeer was born in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, but spent much of his childhood in the Fiji Islands, where his parents worked for the Peace Corps. This experience, and the resulting trip back to the United States through Asia, Africa, and Europe, deeply influenced him.

Jeff is married to Ann VanderMeer, who is currently an acquiring editor at Tor.com and has won the Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award for her editing of magazines and anthologies. They live in Tallahassee, Florida, with two cats and thousands of books.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,505 reviews
Profile Image for Nilufer Ozmekik.
2,130 reviews39.3k followers
March 26, 2022
Cryptic, claustrophobic, complex, confusing! So many C words can be used to define this rich, fresh, stunning mysterious story dances between dystopian sci-fi, thought provoking suspense and ecological mystery!

We patiently learn to walk in the dark as the author gives us small hints about the MC’s motivation to find the mystery behind a dead woman: Silvina: a troubled ecoterrorist and daughter of Argentine industrialist. She leaves a key to a storage unit. As our MC turns the key she finds taxidermied hummingbird and a few clues that leads her to a taxidermied salamander. I know your mind is already confused. Why this woman is dead and why the hell she left those suspicious belongings to the MC! It’s weird!

But as you start to learn about unconventional MC named Jane Smith, you feel like you find someone closer to your weirdest family member you politely reject to have communication more than two seconds ( she is between your big mouthed aunt and wanker uncle) It’s not about her threatening appearance (once upon a time she was wrestler ) or naming her bag “shovel pig” ( I call my PC: Shirley even though she tells me not to call her like that! She hates Airplane quotes! ) She’s tough, menacing but she’s also rude, relentless ! She doesn’t care people’s thoughts! She acts reserved around her own family. Sometimes she has hard time to draw lines between being tough and being douche!

But I liked the way the author wants us walk in the dark, chasing more information about the big scheme. Questions fly above your heads. You get dizzier, dumbfounded, shocked but you keep guessing more and try to gather the pieces to see the picture. Pacing was absolutely satisfying. You keep reading even though at each chapter your brain turns into a mush, your hair is in the air, you lose the rest of your frying brain cells , you smell the smoke coming out of your ears!

Yes, this is compelling, exhausting reading but it’s truly worth it because there is no missing piece or unanswered question, a plot hole left in the end. You get your answers and close your book with big satisfying smile!

This book is not masterpiece as like Annihilation but it’s so close to be a masterpiece! It’s ultra smart, exciting, moving, absurd, dark, mind bending , earth shattering, strange, difficult but it truly gives you delight of well written literature! I loved it! I truly recommend to the fans of genre and the author!

He has a unique brain which is capable to create unconventional, original , fantastic stories nobody ever dare to think !

Many thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux / MCD for sharing this special reviewer copy with me in exchange my honest thoughts.
Profile Image for Blaine.
728 reviews580 followers
March 29, 2021
Some things remain mysterious even if you think about them all the time.
Thanks to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for sending me an ARC of Hummingbird Salamander in exchange for an honest review. I feel conflicted about posting such a negative review for a book I received as an ARC, but honest means honest, and I had a lot of problems with this novel.

The main character, who calls herself “Jane,” receives an envelope with a key to a storage unit that holds a stuffed hummingbird and the thinnest of clues about the location of a missing reputed eco-terrorist, Silvina Vilcapampa. Jane doesn’t know Silvina, so I feel like any rational person’s reaction would be “that’s weird, but whatever, I’m going to go back home to my spouse and daughter.” Instead, Jane literally throws her entire life away—her job, husband, daughter, even her personal safety—to search for a stranger. And there’s no explanation for why Jane would make such a mind-boggling choice.

Jane is a difficult narrator. She’s very cryptic, and it’s hard to connect with a narrator who is keeping so many secrets from the reader. She seems wildly paranoid, though I guess you’re not actually paranoid if they really are out to get you. It’s a combination that adds up to a person whose mind you don’t want to inhabit for an entire novel. Most of all, though, she’s a relentlessly unlikeable character. Her treatment of her husband and daughter is stunningly callous, and she knowingly places multiple other people in mortal danger without even so much as a warning.

I also had a number of problems with the story being told. There’s less plot here than I expected, and often the story advances only because Jane makes some leap of logic or jumps to a conclusion without evidence. The cast of characters is rather confusing, and the reader never really knows what has happened to many of them, an absence of closure that seemed deliberate but is still frustrating. It is only in the final pages that the reader begins to get answers about what may have set this story in motion, and at least for me, the answers came too late and were not that satisfying.

I also feel that Hummingbird Salamander fell far short of the description: a speculative, tightly plotted thriller about endangered species, climate change, identity, the world we live in, and the possible end of all things. I did not get any of that here. Tightly plotted is subjective. But most of the discussion of endangered species was about the stuffed hummingbird and salamander themselves. I have no idea how this book was about identity, especially as “Jane” makes clear that nearly all the names she uses are fake. And the rest—climate change, the world we live in, and the possible end of all things—are just obliquely hinted at with passing references to future problems, or a failed attempt to build an ecologically sustainable community.

There are quotations within the novel (and discussions in other reviews) that make me wonder if the message here is supposed to be about the length regular people will be required to go to combat climate change and ecological destruction. First, if that’s the case, it’s buried pretty deep. Second, it’s a demoralizing message because it’s a completely unrealistic idea. Almost no one will go to the absurd lengths Jane goes to in this novel; people generally would not consider abandoning their family and living off the grid to be a life worth living. Finally, and maybe most importantly, there are any number of studies have debunked this idea that significant personal sacrifice is what it will take to combat climate change and ecological destruction. Corporate, industrial pollution is the primary source of the problem and will control what happens in the future, regardless of whether or not I personally recycle or reduce my carbon footprint.

Jeff VanderMeer is an author I’ve wanted to read, but hadn’t gotten around to yet. So when Hummingbird Salamander came up on NetGalley, I thought “great, I’ll finally give him a try.” It made sense at the time, but seems like a mistake in hindsight, because I don’t know if my issues are limited to this novel or if Mr. VanderMeer is just not my cup of tea. I need some people who have read Mr. Vandermeer’s more popular works, particularly his Southern Reach trilogy, to read this one and then weigh in: is this book different enough from his others that I should still try Annihilation, or is this book similar enough that I would just be in for another frustrating read?
Profile Image for Henk.
822 reviews
May 23, 2021
A bewildering read about a woman her life unraveling due to what’s essentially a kind of escape room hunt in the real world
It was hard to remember what to forget.

A security consultant, Jane Smith, going down the rabbit hole of eco terrorism and illegal trafficking due to a random envelope being handed to her.
The opening is extremely strong and compelling but I feel Jeff VanderMeer just doesn’t know how to build on that.
There is a lot of foreshadowing which works to pull you in, but when the goods are not delivered so to say, one is left unsatisfied. The upheaval in the world around her is not painted in a convincing manner, the whole referencing to pandemic seems to be a bolted add-on to be frank, or some kind of way to explain why authorities don’t stop her or the shadowy organization she’s tracking.
How she does this detective work is rather unconvincing and requires some inference of meaning to very random clues, it almost made me feel like Foucault's Pendulum from Umberto Eco in how one starts to doubt if Jane is not just imagining the whole eleborate plot.

The alienation of Haruki Murakami in 1Q84 and After Dark and some of the Dark Tower series of Stephen King come to mind as well.
And for anyone who read Annihilation and Authority, the structure of a loner woman (I may have come to realize I was a loner posing as someone normal) moving from normal, dreary office politics to being dragged into nature, will seem familiar. Also the alienating lack of personal names around her (The Daughter, The Husband, The Psychologist) is a device reminiscent from that book.

If the pacing was a bit more tight (and the logic moving Jane from one place to another) I would definitely have enjoyed this book more. Also Jane as a character is rather hard to sympathize with, how easily she abandons the world and turns out to be a kind of overpowered, impervious Hulk figure running from one shootout to the next while mulling about her hard childhood. Overall, with everyone knowing/being connected to everyone and the message at the end, this would make an okay Netflix miniseries, but Hummingbird Salamander falls short as a novel.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,918 reviews35.4k followers
April 16, 2021
Audiobook — read by Lisa Flanagan (loved her engaging-performance-voice)
11 hours and 36 minutes

I can imagine...
I can imagine...
I can imagine...
NOTE....we really ‘are’ invited to IMAGINE.... the possibilities...[be the observer]... of a hidden world of quiet aggression-trying to hide beneath the brokenness of solace.

I can’t believe how much I was into this wondrous unnerving, strange, dark, and fabulously brilliant book...
I was soooo into it! Surprised me too!
...it’s rare that I rave over post-apocalyptic -sci-fi speculative and realistic type novels ...
but my god... the luscious prose was dreamy - addictive and paralyzing —
The storytelling reveals creepy perceptive undercurrents of a damaged family, friends, ecoterrorists....
with mystery, environmental effects of climate change, and the many ways we are destroying our earth.

During one scene, while I was driving to a doctors appointment— I was so taken — I had to force myself not to cry while driving behind the wheel—
I found this book impossible to resist .... the lyrical descriptions were like glitter and somersaults....
dazzling, mischievous suspenseful and highly original!!!

As for our protagonist... security consultant...
imagine calling her Jane Smith) > perhaps Jill > when sitting at a bar with a strange man > imagine calling him
Jack >
I found her flaws as convincing as I did the entire story captivating!

“The trees were whispering to me as if they were wanting to tell me a dark secret.
We’ve killed so much, perhaps killing just a little bit more won’t kill us, especially if it saves us another year”.

The full 5 stars from me... and it goes without saying..
how gorgeous the book cover is!
Profile Image for Claudia.
947 reviews523 followers
February 19, 2021
"We must change to see the world change"

The more I read about him and his works, the more I appreciate Jeff VanderMeer. His love for nature radiates from every word he writes. I cannot but have the outmost respect for his dedication and implication in preserving wildlife and nature, in general. His #VanderWild tweets are a delight. Even from this book, "a percentage of the royalties will go to environmental organizations dedicated to fighting wildlife smuggling", as he noted in the acknowledgments.

Because wildlife trafficking is what this book is about. Disguised as a thriller/mystery novel, set "ten seconds into the future", it deals also with "bioterrorism, ecoterrorism, and climate change".

Do not get mislead that the book is about Jane/Jill Smith, the security consultant, which risks everything in a quest devised by someone she doesn't even know. She could be any of us and this is even more emphasized by the fact that she has such a generic name. Preserving wildlife, fighting climate change, taking care of the environment, are not tasks only for big organizations, but for each and every one of us. And most of the times, it involves making sacrifices.

Even the choice for the name Silvina, the woman who puts this whole quest in motion, is not random, from my point of view; it is derived from Silvana, meaning "one who lives in the forest", a very fitting name as I came to discover later.

And from these outlines, the author has drawn a story that left me shattered. I disliked Jane at first, because I did not understand her wild-goose chase. But the more I read, the more I became immersed in the story and understood its meaning. Being told from her point of view, the narrative really gets to you: the from her past, the apparently indifference of how others (and herself) see her, the loneliness, the struggles... It is quite rare for me to identify myself with a character, but I did it here. She's such a compelling narrator that I couldn't escape. And in the end it left me drained.

What more can I say? I loved this novel: the worldbuilding, the reality of it, Jane's quest, Silvana's plans, the dark and eerie atmosphere, the perpetual feeling that everything is doomed up until it isn't, and most of all, the mesagge it carries: that even if the whole world is against us, each of us can make a difference and have an impact on this world, but we have to make some sacrifices. The question is, how far are we willing to go?

"Impossible to tell how fast society was collapsing because history had been riddled through with disinformation, and reality was composed of half-fictions and full-on paranoid conspiracy theories."

"Those of us who survived the pandemic, and all the rest, passed through so many different worlds. Like time travelers. Some of us lived in the past. Some in the present, some in an unknowable future.[...] So we stitched our way through what remained of life not so much in bubbles but in varying levels of unreality. Even as past, present, future lived in all of us. The wounds deeper. The disconnect higher."

"Fires, floods, disease, nuclear contamination, foreign wars, civil unrest, police brutality, drought, massive electrical outages, famine. It accumulated, oozed in around the cracks in our day-to-day. Always over there. Always somewhere else."

"What is the world like after the end of the world? Is there a hummingbird, a salamander? Is there a you?"

>>> ARC received thanks to  4th Estate/HarperCollins Publishers  via NetGalley <<<
Profile Image for Mel (Epic Reading).
895 reviews274 followers
August 18, 2021
I hate writing reviews for books I didn't like. Unfortunately this is one of those. And to think it's a Jeff VanderMeer book! But alas I have to be honest, the reality is I was psyched for Hummingbird Salamander and ended up massively disappointed. Here's why:

Genre Confusion
Part of the problem with VanderMeer's novel is that it is toted as a science fiction book in it's classification and marketing. But I found there was really nothing sci-fi about it until the last 75 pages. Which means you have to slog through 250+ pages of what would be classified as a weak mystery novel. Unfortunately it was just boring to me. I'm not much of a mystery/thriller (on it's own) reader so I struggled through a lot of this.

Narrative Voice
First off, I hated (yes I mean hated) our leading lady who narrates the novel for us. She seems to be rambling, confused, and in need of some serious mental health help at every turn. At about 80% through the novel VanderMeer reminds us that this is supposed to be a written account of the events that happened. I had completely forgotten that tidbit from the beginning. Why were we not reminded more often? Why did the prose not read that way? It felt like Interview with the Vampire for me which was an attempt to have a personal narrative but flopping badly because the voice is not strong enough or just not consistent enough to feel like someone is telling (or writing) the story down.

The Ending
I'm surprised I made it to the ending. Honestly if it was an unknown author I would have DNF'd Hummingbird Salamander for sure. But because it was VanderMeer I kept thinking there had to be something up-coming that was worth the wait. I wasn't totally let down. The point or morale of the novel is very good in the end. But I'm not sure why it took 250+ pages to get to it. I almost feel like the last 75 pages was a great novella at some point and someone made a poor decision to make it a full length novel. The first 250+ pages could easily have been put into a paragraph at the beginning of a novella to get you into the story and then explode into the epic ending from there. I felt no value to the lost, confused, and boring narrative leading up to the sci-fi section of the novel.
That said I do get that VanderMeer is making a political/societal comment here. And so I really appreciated this quote; especially given the crazy amount of misinformation during the pandemic to date:
"Impossible to tell how fast society was collapsing because history had been riddled through with disinformation, and reality was composed of half-fictions and full-on paranoid conspiracy theories."

It's really too bad that the majority of this novel is not for me. If you like super slow burning, disjointed stories with very little foreshadowing then you'll maybe enjoy this one. If you're hoping for a fast paced science fiction novel (like you'd expect from VanderMeer ) then step away slowly and find something else to read; I wish I had. And while yes I did enjoy the ending it was simply not worth it. Maybe there is a screenplay here that might play out better with more character development and really good acting chemistry, maybe. But honestly I'm not sure it's salvageable at all without cutting the first 2/3 out and just working with the last bit.
This won't turn me away from VanderMeer as I've enjoyed this short stories in the past. I'm sad it was my first novel by him. But I have a few others of his on my shelf that I will definitely try in the future. He is after all a Canadian, like me, and I always try to support my fellow Canadians! For now I need to move onto something with some true science fiction elements and maybe a bit snarky to get over my bitterness...Murderbot anyone?

Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review. (less)
Profile Image for Carolyn Walsh .
1,444 reviews574 followers
April 19, 2021
Thank you, NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada, for this thought-provoking, fascinating book. This ARC came without the ability to Send to Kindle. As a result, It took longer than usual to read on my iPad, but I stayed with it until its ending. This was an eco-thriller that was gripping, confusing, complex and sometimes contradictory. It is about mankinds' failure to protect the environment while the world is spiralling towards its doom. Themes include obsession, danger, and mystery.

The main character calls herself 'Jane.' She is an imposing large woman with a husband and daughter. She works as a security analyst. Her hobbies are wrestling and bodybuilding. She can be mean and vicious. One day, she is handed a key for a storage unit from a woman she has never met and has recently died in a traffic accident. She finds she has been left a taxidermied hummingbird and a cryptic note mentioning a salamander. The note is signed by Silvina.

The narrative is mostly through Jane's stream of consciousness. She dwells on her childhood, which she recalls as abusive and unpleasant. The one bright spot was her beloved brother before he drowned. How reliable are her memories? She feels she is becoming paranoid. This is partly true, but there are actually people following her and wishing her harm. She becomes obsessed with following Silvina's clues but does not understand their purpose or urgency.

Through diligent research, she learns that the hummingbird was endangered and is probably now extinct. She is determined to find the salamander mentioned in the note. She finds that Silvina was the daughter of a billionaire Argentine industrialist, drug lord and animal trafficker. She was regarded as an environmental activist turned eco-terrorist.

The hummingbird is stolen from Jane's gym locker. She soon learns that she is under surveillance and being followed. She has put her family, workmates, and acquaintances in jeopardy. She has no idea why Silvina contacted her but is determined to learn what her aim was. She is on the run alone from wildlife traffickers, Silvina's family, and eco-terrorists. She hopes to retrace some of the unknown woman's path through wilderness areas to solve the mystery. Before receiving the hummingbird, she met a man in a bar who called himself Jack and was thinking of engaging in a one-night stand with him. They flirted and he disappeared. Now she is receiving odd text messages from someone called Hellbender. She believes this is Jack. Is he a federal agent and protector, or are his goals malicious?

Jane accumulates an arsenal of weapons during her search for answers. She is shot several times, captured, and escapes by jumping off a balcony. She finally has seen the taxidermied salamander before a captor sets on fire. This is another highly endangered animal, probably now extinct. She has lost her family, job, workmates, and acquaintances due to her behaviour and putting their lives in danger. She has painful injuries to her leg and shoulder.

We are never told the time frame of the story. There are references to pandemics, some people wearing masks to filter out contaminants in the air, fires, polluted water, and extinction of animal life, with escalating climate change. Later there are mentions of anarchy, the collapse of democratic institutions, refugees fleeing northward to Canada, and curfews. Disinformation and conspiracies abound. A new pandemic has killed her husband, her father and his second wife. It has a grim, claustrophobic atmosphere. There is a glimmer of hope at the end, but the conclusion is left open-ended.

This was a compelling, fantastic story that could become all too real. The book's cover is gorgeous!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,910 followers
April 8, 2021
Interestingly enough, Vandermeer also writes a smart mystery. He's not just a Weird writer. Borne, Annihilation, even his early shroomy novels were heady and imaginative and always able to make us question, question, question.

This more traditional mystery, haunted by ecoterrorism, low-grade security personnel work, and family life that slowly crumbles away in the pollution of a life caught by claustrophobia, paranoia, shares some of the best features of his earlier work while remaining grounded in the real world.

This one is a traditional mystery. But the perception within the novel is quite lush, imaginative, and rather stomach-turning. I got the sense of huge conspiracies, being totally out of one's depth, and the start weird terror of being so... OBSESSED with a stuffed hummingbird and a stuffed salamander.


I liked everything up until a certain point where running was the only option. After that, I was a bit disappointed even when things turned and turned again later on. The disconnect was real. I didn't WANT to feel disconnected. But then, by that point, everything had crumbled. On purpose, mind you, but I felt just as lost. Confused. Despairing.

Good that the writer could convey that without wallowing in it, but it killed the pace of the story.

So, in the end, I'm only giving it 3.5 out of 5, but it WAS quite interesting and shocking.
Profile Image for Max.
288 reviews52 followers
February 28, 2021
Hummingbird Salamander will leave you in the dark for as long as it possibly can, before divulging it all in a shocking reveal. It’s a book where you’ll be dazzled but confused as you follow the cryptic mystery that initially begins with a taxidermied hummingbird.

In this part sci-fi part mystery novel, we follow the main character, Jane, as she is trying to discover the history of a woman named Silvina. After being led to a locker with a note from “Silvina” with a taxidermied hummingbird, Jane is advised to also uncover a salamander. Silvina is a reported eco-terrorist with her past affiliations being suspiciously ambiguous. The more Jane finds the more the stakes get higher and higher, but she continues in her pursuit of the truth. You will find yourself asking many questions about Jane and her true motives along the way, but even the protagonist is just another missing piece in the puzzle who is just as difficult to figure out. There are lots of suspicious characters and encounters, and an unease to everyone who Jane interacts with, even her own family.

If you’re looking for a unique and intelligent mystery, I think anyone can easily dig their teeth into this. VanderMeer doesn’t cut any corners in this first-person investigation with Jane. As the narrator, Jane is relentless in her pursuit of the truth which makes her an authentically satisfying character to follow. She throws her whole life aside in order to continue her investigation, and comes off as spiteful to everyone she meets. But her motivation is key to keep the pace moving as you’ll never feel frustrated by her being naïve or clueless.

The cryptic writing might not be to everyone’s taste, but I liked reading a book that almost felt urgent and secretive. Your connection to Jane and the characters is mysterious and purposely ambiguous. Rather, I found this eco-thriller to have a great and unsettling atmosphere while having a lot of strong impacts and messaging about the environment and how humanity strives to sustain and destroy it.

If you’re interested in reading something that feels fresh and exciting even if it’s a little bit outside your usual genre, I’d definitely give this book a try. Jane’s “urgent” and short-sentenced narration was easily the highlight of this book, and worked well with this colorful and early-COVID setting.

Review also posted at: https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/hu...
Profile Image for Debra .
2,198 reviews34.9k followers
March 24, 2021
2.5 stars

First things first, the cover is gorgeous!

"Jane Smith" receives a taxidermied hummingbird along with clues which lead her to a taxidermied salamander. This is where readers might be thinking "what???" I know I was. Hmmm, why was Jane Smith chosen to receive these items and go on the hunt. Silvana, a reputed deceased ecoterrorist left her the note that started Jane Smith on this journey. Taking the Hummingbird from the storage unit triggers events which leave Jane and her family in danger.

An interesting concept which started strongly for me but then became a struggle. Initially I found it to be weird, confusing and wondered what the heck was going on just like Jane Smith in this book. But in the beginning chapters this book had something which grabbed me and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen. But then it became a real struggle. This book is about endangered species, conspiracies, eco-terrorism. At heart this is a sci-fi mystery. I am hit or miss with science fiction so perhaps I was not the best reader for this book. I do not mind being in the dark, this often sparks my curiosity but along the way I got lost while reading this book.

Jane herself, is infesting in that she is an odd lady. She is a former wrestler and physically intimidating. She towers over most people and her personality is lacking. Honestly, for most of the book, I did not know what to make of her. But she is smart, tough, but remained somewhat flat for me.

I must give this book props for originality and not spoon feeding the reader. For most of the book, I was in the dark. Reading this book was like trying to put the pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle together. Another positive of this book is the brilliant writing.

While many are loving this book, it just did not quite work for me. I am sitting out in outlier field on this one. Read the reviews of others who are enjoying this much more than I did.

Thank you to Farrar, Straus, and Giroux/MCD and NetGalley who provided me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All the thoughts and opinions are my own.

Read more of my reviews at www.openbookposts.com
Profile Image for Toni.
515 reviews
April 8, 2021
This was my first book by Jeff VanderMeer. And it's a clever, clever one, which I'm still thinking about.
You have to be in a special kind of mindset for Hummingbird Salamander- it is enigmatic, confusing, thought-provoking and complex. I didn't find it easy to get into the story (too many run-of-the-mill, predictable thrillers recently), but the writing was so good that I just had to continue trying to wrap my mind around this mystery. It is as if the book had a special kind of rhythm, keeping me alert and paying close attention, and then dulling my senses with the foreshadowing I wasn't ready for. Eventually, everything becomes clear and you see how well-plotted this book is. My biggest enemy were my own expectations of what the book is going to be about or rather how it is going to approach me- appeal to my emotions? logic? current events?

'Jane Smith' is a security systems analyst. There aren't many women in her position and she seems to enjoy her work. The story begins with Jane receiving an envelope, left for her in her favourite bar by a mysterious customer. Inside the envelope there is a key to a storage unit and a note from a woman called Silvina. Intrigued by the note implying that Silvina is dead, Jane visits the storage unit and finds a box with a taxidermied hummingbird that belongs to a very rare, now extinct species. Jane discovers that Silvina was a very unusual person, an alleged bioterrorist. Jane takes up the challenge set in Silvina's note, although it quickly becomes apparent that she might have got herself into something very dangerous.

Jane is a unique character in many ways and I'mnot talking about her striking appearance, which I will remember. For most of the book you are led to believe she has this strange emotional disconnect from the world she lives in - her family, her parents, her colleagues. Is it really so? She keeps dropping hints atsome future events and talking to you about the change that is happening in her, but you are caught in all the smoke and mirrors of the thriller part, until the true meaning of the journey from the hummingbird to the salamander and back is revealed.

It isn't easy to classify this book- an ecological thriller? mystery? noir? conspiracy? sci-fi? There are some very pertinent questions about our world and its future and there are some profound philosophical reflections. As you keep reading, you get more and more pieces to help you understand the protagonist and you are drawn more and more into the story. Just go along with the author's brilliant writing. I promise you the book is one of a kind.

Thank you to NetGalley and Farrar, Straus and Giroux for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
Profile Image for Miranda.
165 reviews49 followers
April 8, 2021
I received an ARC of this book from a Goodreads giveaway hosted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All opinions are my own.

Jeff VanderMeer is an author that I think releases some of the coolest books. I appreciate how he captures such a strange and at times confusing vibe in all of his books alongside issues regarding the environment.

Hummingbird Salamander is a speculative thriller that follows a security consultant called “Jane Smith” as she attempts to unravel a mystery. Jane receives an envelope with a key that leads her to a storage unit where she finds a taxidermied hummingbird and clues mentioning a taxidermied salamander. Jane learns that the woman who left the note for her is named Silvina and is a reputed ecoterrorist. By taking the hummingbird, Jane launches herself into a world of secrets and danger. She soon becomes fixated on finding answers, but time is running out and danger closes in on her and her family.

I am always amazed by Jeff VanderMeer’s writing. While it does confuse me at times, I genuinely love it. I think he creates something so unique and compelling in each book. I find his books to be very immersive, and this one was no different. Every time I was reading it, I did not want to put it down. The way the story unfolds really pulls readers in. There are so many layers and messages to this book with climate change, endangered and extinct wildlife, ecoterrorism, conspiracies, warfare, privacy, security, and technology. I like how he structured the narrative so readers and Jane were uncovering things at the same time too. I honestly had no idea where the mystery was going.

This book is also set up in a way that makes it feel real and atmospheric despite everything else being so cryptic. As a reader, I was invested in it more because of this. VanderMeer tends to do a great job with highlighting real issues without overshadowing the story or being repetitive. His works have this relatable quality even when they are confusing and weird.

There is a wider cast of characters that can sometimes get lost in the midst of everything else, but following Jane keeps the story somewhat focused. At times, it felt like I needed a reminder of who everyone was or how they were involved. I do think this added to the experience because it mirrored what I think Jane must have felt while trying to uncover secrets and solve the mystery.

Hummingbird Salamander made for a very distinctive reading experience. It reminded me of how I felt reading Annihilation for the first time. I was definitely immersed into the story and could not wait to figure out all the answers. If you like VanderMeer’s other books, I would say this one is a must read!

*Content warning: violence, death, loss of a loved one, drowning, animal death*

Thank you to Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Goodreads for giving me the opportunity to read and review this novel before its release on April 6th, 2021.
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,265 reviews201 followers
February 2, 2021

A thriller by Jeff VanderMeer? Hell yes! The author, intriguing premise and stunning cover made it one of my most anticipated novels of 2021. On one level, Hummingbird Salamander is a thriller about a security expert who gives her name only as “Jane” and who informs readers she’ll show them how the world ends. On another, it shows how climate change transforms us and our environments. It’s not an easy read; it has a lot of moving pieces and the labyrinthine plot requires focus and patience.

Jane won’t use her real name for a reason, but does it matter? She’s no one. Someone leading an ordinary life until an unexpected gift from a dead woman turns everything upside down. The envelope she receives in a coffee bar contains a storage unit address, a key, and a note. She can’t resist and opens the locker containing a preserved hummingbird, the last of its kind, and a note with the words Hummingbird and Salamander, signed Silvina. Silvina Vilcacampa, the ecoterrorist. Jane becomes obsessed with discovering her whereabouts and fate.

This, however, alarms mysterious and powerful foes who attack Jane and her co-workers. They force her to abandon her husband and teenage daughter and flee. But even then, Jane won’t stop before she discovers the truth. Antagonists include almost unkillable psychos and powerful people engaged in the exotic wildlife smuggling. VanderMeer plays with readers’ expectations, provides plenty of thrills and moments of dark humor.

I loved the world and the writing. Short sentences gave a sense of urgency and got directly to the point. I found the plot intriguing, but also confusing. The book felt fresh. The author wraps up almost everything near the end. However, the ending itself lacks closure. While I appreciate the ideas, I didn’t care about characters. Jane had a very minimalist way of expressing herself, and it made her difficult to relate to. She does a lot of things, but it takes time to understand why. The reasons why everyone tries to kill everyone remain unclear for most of the story. There’s also more than a bit of (expected) preaching.

Hummingbird Salamander is surprising and suspenseful, but more cerebral than emotional. The denseness of the material requires focus and patience. Readers interested in challenging themselves will find plenty of thrills (and challenges) here; those who prefer clearer narratives and relatable characters will find them elsewhere.

ARC through Fantasy Book Critic's NetGalley
Profile Image for Jade Ratley.
176 reviews2,893 followers
January 3, 2023
6.14 on CAWPILE.

Very intriguing, and definitely held my interest, but a little underwhelming towards the end.
Profile Image for Carrot :3 (on a hiatus).
253 reviews74 followers
May 24, 2021
This book could’ve used way more commas instead of full stops.

I felt like I was in a trance while reading this. That effect is probably due to the suspended narration and the sombre undertone.

I wanted to give Jeff VanderMeer another try as I didn’t like the Southern Reach trilogy. I picked this up as it’s supposed to be a thriller but instead we get a paranoid security analyst who does nothing for a good chunk of the book because.... she’s paranoid. It’s such a slow burn that the burn burned itself out.

Our ‘Jane’ receives a taxidermied hummingbird from Silvina and she becomes obsessed, so obsessed that she throws her whole life away. She loses interest in anything ‘mundane’- her husband, her daughter, her job and becomes a paranoid detective bunny all the while mulling over her childhood. She hops around playing detective with ridiculous clues and leads that don’t make sense to us but somehow, they work.

I liked her transfixed narration of the hummingbird’s life, but later I got sick of that kind of narration. Her idealisation of a fucking stranger while she doesn’t care for anyone around her. Don’t get me wrong, I liked some of the Silvina’s passages- I didn’t like the worship.

Her extreme paranoia felt ridiculous but later gets warranted as the story progresses. My only thoughts for a better chunk of the book were- What the fuck is she doing? Why the fuck is she doing this? Look, I get it. You got a mysterious letter and you were curious but no one goes around carrying a gun, beating up people and putting everyone around them in danger just to chase a ghost. And somehow this makes her life more exciting. Being with her family felt like a chore to her.

A ton of shit goes down after following seemingly absurd clues, sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, ruining lives of many people and her body in the process. She then lives a life of a nomad running from people for years. This sums up about 80% of the book.

Then the story *kinda* picks up and starts giving us answers. Were the answers worth the wait? Nah.

Ps: This fucking book literally gave me a reading slump.

Total time spent: 10h 13min. (I wish I could take this back.)

~ ARC received from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for inciminci.
327 reviews24 followers
April 16, 2022
An accesible Vandermeer? How WEIRD!
Finished this last night and I was honestly a little surprised by the nice flow this book had. Don't get me wrong, I love reading Vandermeer, it just needed some getting used to but I liked this new style too.
Well, Hummingbird Salamander starts much like Finch, as a noir story with slightly weird elements. We follow Jane who is mysteriously given a box with a taxidermed (sorry if that isn't even a word) hummingbird in it and signed with salamander. So she starts following the clues to find out what this is all about. It will play a role in the later parts of the story that Jane is also physically very strong; she is a wrestler and bodybuilder and is not only subject to people's attention, she can also enjoy many physical advantages that come with a strong built such as not needing protection or being able to fearlessly go anywhere she wants any time she wants. Her research will lead her first into the ecoterrorist scene, then the Latin American underground and finally into a full blown dystopia.
I especially enjoyed reading about the unusual main character. Apart from her physical traits that play a big role in shaping her, I also could very much empathize with how her actions were mostly rooted in her heartbreaking past and how that acted as a propeller for her obsessive research. To me she was thoroughly interesting.
I also liked the direction the story goes. I don't read many eco-thrillers but I had the feeling that it was unusual and exciting that this book took a dystopic turn.
I still don't have the feeling that it was a Vandermeer I have just read, I don't know why, but apart from that I found Hummingbird Salamander has a profound message about our world packaged into an adventurous and emotional story. Wow.
Thank you panmacmillan and FSC for the review copy.
March 30, 2021
I don't think I was the right audience for this book. I'm usually ok with sci-fi, but this was so utterly confusing and kept going off on weird tangents and was more cerebral literary sci-fi than anything. Yes, the tangents eventually circled back and the ending did make sense, thus the two stars rather than one, but so much of the journey was immensely convoluted and frustrating.

The writing is wonderful. VanderMeer is a unique writer, penning beautiful phrases that move the storyline forward while making a statement. However...I just got lost. It's not straightforward what "Jane Smith" is doing, but that isn't the problem so much as we just don't know her motivation for doing what she does. She is unlikable, which I can deal with, but she keeps secrets from the reader, and I hate that. I like to be able to experience things, not be fooled along with the other characters.

We get glimpses at a possible future of our world, but nothing is ever explained how it got that way. It's all so esoteric and even the ending just didn't make it satisfying for me.

In the hands of a reader with vision for the future and its possibilities, with a heart for saving the environment and ecosystem at all costs, this will be a compelling and thought-provoking novel. Unfortunately it didn't work for me, but the right reader will love it.

I voluntarily reviewed a complimentary copy of this book
Profile Image for Sarah.
Author 111 books709 followers
January 24, 2021
When the Southern Reach trilogy came out, I bought Annihilation at a book festival, and then returned the next day and bought both sequels, having read the first book that evening in a single gulp. If this didn't quite reach those heights for me, it pushed a lot of the same buttons. Unknowable mysteries, a narrator who is slow to reveal her truths, some absolute truths about office life. There's no cosmic horror here; more of an eco thriller. If the puzzles aren't quite as satisfying, they're still satisfying. I stayed up most of the night last night reading it, and picked it up first thing this morning and read until I was finished. That's as strong an endorsement as anything these days, since I'm very easily distracted.
Profile Image for Tomislav.
957 reviews68 followers
February 15, 2021
Jeff VanderMeer, one of the ur-authors of the New Weird subgenre of speculative fiction, has taken a change in direction here, writing his new eco-thriller in a less ambiguous reality than his famed Southern Reach trilogy or earlier Ambergris trilogy. Hummingbird Salamander is the very personal first-person story of Jane Smith, which she gives as a convenient handle for herself, whether it is her actual name or not. Jane works as a security analyst – of the internet security variety – with a dark past not known to her boss or her husband or even really acknowledged by herself. She lives in the contemporary world, but one declining only slightly faster than our own, through pandemic, environmental degradation, government authoritarianism, and social deterioration.

One day, Jane is handed a mysterious message anonymously via a coffee shop barista. The thing is, the message contains an allusion to Jane’s hidden past with no explanation, and she feels compelled to investigate. Deeper and deeper she is pulled into the world of Silvina, a recently deceased rebellious daughter of a shady international industrialist, who was involved with illegal wildlife trafficking and bio terrorists. Jane makes obsessed decisions in a sort of amoral numbness, having checked out of the emotional ties of a normal life, long ago. I guarantee you will not like Jane. But as her past and her own misconceptions of her past are painfully revealed, there is some explanation. “Salamanders live in two worlds: The terrestrial and the aquatic. Humans can’t do that. Humans find themselves caught between things, having to choose. Salamanders don’t have to choose. Part of both.” Jane is human, and she is compelled to make choices. Like a salamander, she hides in rotting logs and under rocks. Like road newts whose yellow stripes warn off predators with their toxicity, Jane will respond to attack with self-destructive violence.

VanderMeer’s trademark world-building ambiguities are under more control in this writing – limited to plot and the meaning of clues, artifacts, and intentions. As far as I’m concerned that is an improvement over an ambiguity of reality, although readers who are expecting a repeat of Annihilation could be disappointed. The ultimate mystery of the novel is for what purpose Silvina set in motion her plan for Jane, before her own death. “Derangement or genius? Was it even possible? If I was right, to create not a deadly pandemic or a biological bomb but a new, true seeing? Let the world in through your pores like a salamander, see all the colors of the flowers only a hummingbird could see.” While not overt for a long time, in the end this is definitely a work of speculative fiction, and one which I enjoyed greatly.

I read an Advance Reader Copy of Jeff VanderMeer’s 2021 novel Hummingbird Salamander in ebook, which I received from Farrar, Straus and Giroux through netgalley.com in exchange for an honest review on social media platforms and on my book review blog. The book is scheduled for release on 6 April 2021.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,338 reviews440 followers
April 13, 2021
For someone who doesn't read dystopian by choice, I find myself picking it up more and more lately, and when it's as well written and immersive as this latest by Jeff VanderMeer, finding it rewarding and thought provoking as well as chilling. Others have called this an eco-thriller, which describes it to a tee. VanderMeer creates characters that have intriguing backstories, and "Jane Smith" is one of his best. A true original. He also has a fine hand in describing action sequences, and as "Jane" navigates her way through her twisting search for a truth, the reader finds themself learning as well. Haunting and chilling at the same time.
August 14, 2021

What did I just read?! I thought this book was going to go in a totally different direction. The ending was—😵‍💫

Big book about wildlife trafficking and the environment. I’m just not sure I really understand the hummingbird and the salamander still 😩

So I get the beginning and who killed her brother and I’m guessing some retribution for killing Ned—but it doesn’t make sense why go all these lengths. And she had a dang death wish set out on her—but for what reason?! I’m still perplexed as to why they wanted her dead so much, why this was all set up. I need answers lol.

The book is a solid three star read because I was involved and it was interesting to me to see where this all ended. The ending was less than lackluster and I didn’t fully understand it but I was following along pretty well until the last 1/4 of the book but I couldn’t even put the book down because I needed to know how this could possibly end. It was a really melancholy book—definitely not a feel good book or a book that you finish and feel like all the t’s were crossed, but I’m sure that’s the whole point of it.
Profile Image for Jthbooks.
142 reviews59 followers
March 21, 2022
No. Hard no.

If I had to read the word Silvina one more time I genuinely might’ve cried.

Just never got into it. It was devoid of all joy. Just no.
Profile Image for Vivian.
2,839 reviews389 followers
March 23, 2022
Unitopia. Allie’s report had described the artists’ commune as an artificial island in the wilderness.

This is all you need to know to understand the story. I can see you giving me side eye and huffing in contempt. But seriously, this is it.

Fine. You seem petulant and want more.

VanderMeer has gone into the deep end of eco-horror, again, but this time at the beginning of the timeline. So, this is a character heavy suspense eco-horror story. And it really seems like the view from the hideout in Borne is used here, just earlier in time.


You are really demanding. So, you’re not a Time Lord. Sad, but we’ll work with it.

My boss stuck his head in the doorway a few minutes later. Let’s call him “Alex” because he resembled an Alex. Reasonable and solid. Flickers of humor a few times a year. A lightbulb that couldn’t quite remember how to turn on. Nothing memorable about his blue suits, white shirts, and red ties, but nothing shabby either. He should’ve looked like a human flag, but chose faded tones. So instead Alex looks like a flag that had seen better days.

If you don’t understand this corporate reference, then we’re doomed. Or this,
I usually stopped talking to people when I felt the compulsion to say “I've got a giant salamander in my room no one’s ever seen before.”

Casual violence that some who value human life might find terrible and a twisty maze of passages that all look the same. Where do they lead. Can’t go forward, must go back.

This is VanderMeer weird. Green skies, dead things and a sort of last cry into the darkness feeling. I loved Borne and Dead Astronauts, this not as much, but maybe it was too close to home—to now.
Profile Image for Crystal King.
Author 5 books417 followers
August 24, 2021
Fans of VanderMeer's other novels (he first hooked me with Borne) may not find the same synergy with this particular book--a contemporary, noir-like, environmental mystery with an obsessed, mostly unlikeable main character. It's a different pace, a more familiar (although still odd) world, and circumstances that are much larger than life. Ultimately, I think I'm not the best audience for this particular novel, but truly, VanderMeer is a brilliant writer. He turns many an amazing phrase in Hummingbird Salamander and I admired it a great deal for his skill at weaving a really intricate tale that dragged me to the end.
Profile Image for Renee Godding.
584 reviews557 followers
July 12, 2021
Jeff VanderMeer just keeps surprising me time and time again. What I wouldn't give for a tour around his brain, just to get a little insight in how he comes up with all these unique ideas...

Hummingbird Salamander is one of those completely unique genre-benders (combining a noir-style mystery with sci-fi-, thriller- and family-drama elements, that also weaves in a big message on climate change) that is hard to describe and has to be experienced to be fully understood. There were moments where I was a bit lost, but in the end VanderMeer brought it all together wonderfully.
More thoughts to come...
Profile Image for Howard.
1,120 reviews67 followers
December 14, 2021
4 Stars for Hummingbird Salamander (audiobook) by Jeff VanderMeer read by Lisa Flanagan.

I had a little trouble following the story and I couldn’t get a sense of what the world looked like. But I thought the main character was really interesting. She’s 6 ft. tall and 230 pounds. She is bigger and stronger than most of the men in the story. I hope there will be more characters like her.
Profile Image for Jay Batson.
262 reviews9 followers
August 28, 2022
I'm just saying it up-front: This is an uncomfortable review to write, because I SO want to like this book. But, I have to give it 2.5 (maybe 3) stars.

I fell in love with the Borne series by VanderMeer. His style of writing thoughts, not sentences, and impressions, not story worked in Borne. Because this entity (probably) wasn't human. But it had emotion, and discovered purpose despite a story that only emerged as you wrestled it out of the snippets you were given. And then the Southern Reach trilogy pulled me in with story. A suspenseful, character-filled series of moments that pulled me along. Plus, the environmental apocalyptic visions were things I could let my mind happily absorb.

Plus, VanderMeer writes what I imagine is literary awesomeness. People who know literature can probably tell you all the amazing things he is doing in crafting a book. It just feels like you're reading "important literature".

So I had such high hopes for reading Hummingbird Salamander. And, ugh - I just didn't love it.

Maybe it's me. Maybe I was reading it as I went to bed, and during the holiday 2020 season when I did so, there was too-much wine, too-much food, too-late nights, and I just fell asleep from those things.

But, then when I tried to read it in the day, I found myself dozing off. Wait - this shouldn't be happening. VanderMeer is a GREAT writer. This MUST be an awesome book.

But, I couldn't escape the problems. On reflection, what were these things that keeps me from gushing about the book? Maybe it's because after an exciting opening, the middle part of the story just Took. So. Long. to develop. And it wasn't interesting along the way.

Maybe it was because this is one of those books where progenitor keeps stumbling from one bad decision to the next. These kind of books frustrate me; even when the characters know and tell us they're making bad decisions. They still make me want to stop.

Maybe it was because I just didn't care about the main character. She is broken, possessed of the need to follow an idea of something to its conclusion at the expense of everything else. Though this theme is one that ought to be able to pull you in, this character didn't do so. I just couldn't go on her journey with her.

And the typical environmental apocalypse that lives in VanderMeer's books was present, but not the kind of character in the book that it is in the others mentioned above.

The writing is that VanderMeer artsy style. Quick thoughts. Sometimes a full sentence. With guns. People might matter. Or a pocketbook might represent. It isn't clear why. Maybe this means something to me, but should it? What would the pond do? (He's clearly better at that then me 😂)

At the end, it finally gets interesting in the last 20% of the book. The story starts to pick up pace. The characters start to move more quickly as they encounter the ends of their stories. I was able to get thru that last section without stopping. AWESOME.

But, did it rescue the rest of the book? I'm sorry, but No. While I can recommend Borne to pretty much anyone who is willing to read some form of SciFi, I simply can't recommend this book to others.

Given my rating scale (below), this fits between 2 and 4. It makes me sad that a favorite author of mine didn't wow me with a book. So, it's 2-stars sad. But, I think it's artsy. The kind of book you think "Wow, it sounds like people who know what good literature is would LOVE this writing." So, that would be a 4 (if true).

But in the end, the fact that the book didn't pull me in, and make me want to stay up all night reading it, means this tends more towards the 2.5-3 star category.

Sadly. I really, truly, honestly wish it were otherwise. I really want to like everything Jeff writes.

(Rating scale: 5 stars for "best books ever". 4 stars for well-written books you won't read again. 3 stars is you forget the book the moment you finish. 2 stars it's so bad it makes you sad. 1 star when you can't read past chapter 3.)
Profile Image for Daniel Shindler.
248 reviews69 followers
May 29, 2021
Jeff VanderMeer has written an eco thriller that is ambitious in its construction and filled with a sense of foreboding and displacement.Set in an unspecified time in the not too distant future, the plot thrusts the reader into a world that is beset by a deteriorating eco system.Garbage in the Atlantic has slowed the Gulf Stream. People walk outside in masks as a guard against toxic air. Towns and cities are abandoned because of uninhabitable climate conditions. Climate refugees are turned away from destinations because more favorable locations are stretched to infrastructure capacity. Drones monitor the population as well as deliver takeout to homes in this familiar but technologically advanced society. There is a Kafkaesque sense of displacement hovering over the society while the more affluent citizens are clinging to a middle class lifestyle reminiscent of the past yet skewed by the worsening environmental conditions.

The plot is delivered through the first person account of a woman who adopts the pseudonym Jane. While Jane, a security consultant, is getting coffee she receives an envelope with a note and a key from a barista who gives no explanation. The enigmatic note is from a woman named Silvana and contains directions to a storage facility that contains a taxidermied hummingbird and has clues that will lead to a taxidermied salamander. Once Jane takes the hummingbird and follows the clues, her life is never the same.

Following these clues plunges Jane into a world of animal trafficking, environmental depredation, surveillance and shadowy spies with conflicting agendas.Jane herself is an arresting and not always likable character.She is a hulking physical presence who stands over six feet tall, has studied criminology and psychology and at times has been a wrestler, weightlifter and bodybuilder.She is a psychological outsider, barely tolerating the corporate culture that provides her living. Her whole person radiates disconnection and discordance.As she immerses herself more deeply into her quest, she spirals further into violence and actions previously unimaginable.

The narrative and Jane’s observations shift back and forth in time and gradually reveal Jane’s backstory and connections to Silvana, the hummingbird and the salamander.The plot exposition is intentionally disjointed, designed to underscore Jane’s gradually rupturing existence.Her odyssey slowly pieces together a portrait of ecological and societal dysfunction and degradation that becomes immersing and possibly terrifying.

The tone and pace of this novel are deliberately fragmented and slowly developed .It is constructed to insert the reader into the bleakness and despair of a world that has disrespected its environment and is slowly realizing the implications of these actions. Someone anticipating a straightforward plot line might not be pleased with this novel.The creation relies mostly on images and contrasts that gradually surround the reader and ultimately coalesce for a frightening resolution that makes one ponder the paths forward for our environment and society.
Profile Image for Jennifer Frye.
249 reviews42 followers
February 22, 2022
I received an advance copy of this book for free from Netgalley.

Actual rating: 2.5 stars.

Those of you expecting something like Annihilation (VanderMeer's most well-known, and in my humble opinion, best book): prepare for disappointment. In the context of VanderMeer's work, this is closer to Borne, but slightly less weird, faster paced, and more confusing.

The main character's purse has a name (?), and that name is "Shovel Pig" (???). I think that one fact says a lot about this book as a whole: it's weird, and characters just do things for no understandable reason.

The main character, "Jane," is an asshole. She's not merely "difficult," or "complicated," or "blunt": she's an asshole, there's no other way of saying it. She treats everyone—family, coworkers, random strangers—like absolute garbage. Unlikeable characters aren't inherently bad in fiction, except she's the type of asshole who is impossible to empathize with, sympathize with, or root for, which makes for a challenging reading experience.

Even worse, her motivation for tracking down Silvina is completely unclear for the first two-thirds of the book, and when it does come into focus it's extremely underwhelming and dubious, particularly given all Jane sacrifices in her quest to…find Silvina, or whatever her goal is. In short, the provided explanation is too little, too late.

This is symptomatic of a greater problem, which is that the events in this book carry almost no emotional impact because everything is so confusing. I spent most of the book trying to figure out why I should care: about Silvina; about the pages and pages and pages spent detailing Jane's seemingly irrelevant backstory; about the overbearing preaching on environmentalism (kind of expected but still not appreciated) and the surveillance state (neither expected nor appreciated); about whatever it is that Jane is trying to accomplish; about who all these random people are and why they're trying to kill each other.

Lest this be an entirely negative review, let me also share some of the things I liked, which kept this from getting a one-star rating. The core mystery is interesting, and at least things were actually happening: all told, it was a quick read, even if only a few sections were truly suspenseful. The writing itself is decent, though if you're expecting the gorgeous, atmospheric, hypnotic prose of Annihilation you'll be sorely disappointed (there were a number of errors in my ebook, but I assume that's because it's an advanced copy and that those typos will be fixed by the time of publishing). Moreover, one could not accuse VanderMeer of cliché: everything about this book is fresh, from plot to characters to settings that felt original and occasionally exceptionally interesting. Finally, I'm most happy that the main questions were neatly wrapped up by the end, even if it did end on a bit of a cliffhanger.
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