To talk about The Vorrh, a novel by B. Catling, which has been praised by the likes of Alan Moore and Tom Waits, is to talk spoilers. There's no way to summarize what happens in this novel without vomiting forth the strings of fantastic ideas contained within. No matter how cautious the summary it will not protect you from the loss of wonder you'll experience knowing anything about this novel before actually reading it. Catling's surrealist-historical-adventure novel is something that deserves to be experienced tabula rosa, because it contains a fresh conceit, and that can turn sour on the jaded. Catling's writing keeps The Vorrh fresh by not indulging in paths well trod.
Perhaps a broader critique: it's good.
To build on that: it contains a multitude of wondrous images. It contains an eerie world that is weird yet simultaneously comfortable. It takes place somewhere on our world, sometime in the past. We recognize some names, we know some places, we understand some of what is told to us--the rest is alien. A warped mirror of what the world is supposed to be, reflecting wrongly, sometimes brutally, but still familiar.
And, I read this on the heels of Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy.
It's only good because it doesn't feel complete--and this could very well be a failing on my part. It's got beautiful staccato images hacked from an epic story, haphazardly placed in a steady rhythm. A march to the end. But the end to what? I don't quite know. Plot-lines wrapped up, sure, but many were left open-ended. A quick search will reveal that a trilogy is planned, and it feels it--and that's the only real down-side to this book.
It's good, so read it, because probably the second book will be even better.
If you need details and a more colorful plot summary, which will most likely dissolve into lists of cool things this book contains, read on.
The titular Vorrh is an ancient forest in a place that very closely approximates the continent of Africa in our world. It is that place, and it isn't. It is an ancient forest that houses the biblical Garden of Eden. Strange angelic ghosts, grey-skinned creatures out of ancient expeditionary folk-lore, and the Judeo-Christian god itself inhabit this ancient forest. There's a German city built in this ancient forest. There's a bowman tracing his way through it, with a bow fashioned from his lover's body. There's a tribesman hunting the bowman, a sorcerer-warrior. He carries a rifle, a weapon named Uculipsa, its wood is carved with spells. He has pointed teeth.
The German city needs timber, but the Vorrh devours the memories of those who enter, so the only force that can work in the Vorrh are the Limboia--zombie-like humans controlled by a red-headed Scotsman who...
If that's not enough for you, then this book isn't for you. Carry on.
If it is enough, then I'm sorry I had to rob you of some the wonder contained within The Vorrh.