The Vorrh by B Catling

The Vorrh is a book of epic proportions, a multi-character tale with characters coming from all over the place, with intertwining stories that leave you wondering if their stories are told during the same time period or whether they overlap each other. This can make The Vorrh feel overwhelming at times, but I found that giving myself time to ruminate on the events of each chapter helped to let the story sink in. This is a book about a primaeval forest, colonialism and the many things beyond human understanding.

Each chapter is told from a different character perspective. There are some characters who appear early in the book but do not become important until later in the story. In the prologue, we meet a man known as The Frenchman in his dying moments. We then meet characters who are from the outskirts of The Vorrh, and living in harmony with it, we are introduced to a man with no name who carries a bow called Este on his back, he has been given instructions to follow including shooting an arrow from Este and heading in the direction of that arrow into the heart of the Vorrh. Then there is Tsungali who remembers the colonisation of his village and how his ancestor’s gods were stolen from his people. Tsungali is tasked to hunt and kill a white man who has entered The Vorrh. Time in these chapters is very fluid, jumping from the past to the present and filling in these characters histories.

We then meet Ishmael who lives hidden in the depths of a town called Essenwald, a very European city, built at the edge of the Vorrh, with a thriving trade in logging. Ishmael is not the same as other humans, although he doesn’t know this as he has been living only with humanoid machines who cook and teach him, as well as providing for his needs. In Essenwald, we also meet Ghertrude Tulp who has an inquisitive mind and feelings of superiority. It is Ghertrude’s need to know that causes her to meet Ishmael and change the course of both of their lives. The Frenchman also appears in Essenwald, although he does not interact with Ghertrude and Ishamael. The Frenchman intends to reach the heart of The Vorrh as he also has a nature that can never be satisfied, always searching for new adventures and experiences.

The Vorrh mixes fictional characters with historical ones, which makes the story of Eadweard Muybridge fascinating, as this is a fictionalised version of the life of this celebrated photographer. The story hints at his most famous works, but it is the fictionalised version that is more important here, as he experiments with what his machinery can do and how deep into the soul his photography can go. Muybridge’s story also doesn’t connect with the characters travelling within The Vorrh or those in the city of Essenwald, as he spends most of his time in America and London, and yet his chapters are more intriguing rather than distracting.

Catling’s writing is poetic, it flows really well, and creates an enchanting spell bringing you with the characters as they go about their tasks. Each character's story is different in tone and muses on a number of different subjects allowing The Vorrh to become a rich tapestry brimming with life and misunderstandings, full of wonder and awe, along with the grim and despicable. The Vorrh is an intriguing, yet heavy book, with a lot of twists and characters who are constantly in danger whether they realise it or not. The characters themselves are engaging, although not wholly likeable. There is a lot of magic and technology crammed within these pages. I was left thinking about what would come next in The Erstwhile, and how many of these characters would be there.

8/10 A rich tapestry brimming with life and misunderstandings, full of wonder and awe

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