Title: Hummingbird Salamander
Author: Jeff VanderMeer
From the back: A speculative thriller about the end of all things, set in an unnamed part of the Pacific Northwest. A harrowing descent into a secret world.
Security consultant and former wrestler ‘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.
The gist: A nature book with a dire warning, this eco-thriller is a dark, twisting ride with its heart set in saving the world.
And who, really, can argue with that.
The book oozes the natural world from its pages, smells of earth and fur, tastes of rain in the forest, feels like walking through a land both overflowing with the richness of life and teetering on the edge of absolute nothingness. VanderMeer combines mystery and violence with a dose of David Attenborough detail, and the combination is a thing of beauty filled with fear, sadness, and perhaps, a glimmer of hope.
The main character, for the purposes of the book called Jane, is fantastic and I don’t think I’ve read a character quite like her before. She’s unusual, coarse, not entirely likeable, and carries you along with her into the unfolding mystery.
It’s not an easy read, at times complicated, confusing. It’s unusual and disquieting. The writing is clipped almost to the point it feels like poetry. But the vibe this all leaves you with is deep and will sit with you for some time.
And when it’s sitting with you, it might ask you, what will you do?
Favourite line: To care more meant putting a bullet in your brain. So, like many, I had learned to care less.
Read if: You want beautifully poetic writing with a message that won’t let you off the hook.
Read with: David Attenborough documentaries at the ready, and your recycling in order.
ARC gratefully received from Fourth Estate, and Netgalley