I must write this review quickly, for I have been to the Vorrh, and my memory fades further each moment since my trek into it’s dark heart.
The Vorrh, by B. Catling, is the story of the oldest forest in the world. Laying somewhere in the heart of Africa, it’s a forest that is mythical, mysterious and unknowable. It is home to angels and daemons, stories both true and untrue, and at it’s heart, supposedly, lies the Garden of Eden itself.
It’s also one of the most original fantasy novels that I’ve read. The meandering narrative follows a handful of bizarre and fascinating characters, whose strange stories and their experiences with the Vorrh cross and entwine. There’s a foppish Frenchman with cruel tastes. A mysterious hunter who wields a living bow made from the spinal column of his dead lover. A haughty and troubled photographer, a cyclops raised by artificial beings made of bakelite, an inquisitive and headstrong Heiress, and more besides.
Sounds weird, and it is, but The Vorrh is a book that writes it’s own rules. The method of writing and storytelling is magical and hyper-real; every word and sentence has been carefully crafted and imbued with meaning. It’s poetic, beautiful and at the risk of sounding pretentious, it’s art.
I’ve been steadily mulling over the ideas presented by the book, trying to unravel the various meanings and mysteries. It’s difficult to describe succinctly what the plot is actually about; a bunch of things are happening all at once, sometimes crossing over, sometimes separate, but it all feels somehow cohesive. It’s definitely a book that raises a lot of questions, but in the case of The Vorrh, this is a strength. The world it presents is one of unknown magic and strange occurrences, so it seems fitting that the book should leave me feeling somewhat mystified.
This isn’t to say that the book left me unsatisfied. All of the characters and plots were interesting to read about, even if they do twist about like angry weasels in a chicken coop. The book focuses on themes of colonialism, colonization and control, in a mental and physical sense as well as an historical one. However, readers who like a book to be bound by more knowable rules and structure may feel a little lost at sea with no compass. I have been informed by the internet that The Vorrh is in fact the first in a trilogy, so I’d imagine we’ll see this grand tale unfold its mysteries more in the future.
In case you can’t tell, I loved The Vorrh. It’s simply one of the most imaginative novels I’ve ever read, and it’s a beautiful example of the Fantasy genre’s potential to expand modern storytelling into brave new ground.