Borne by Jeff VanderMeer


The Company has destroyed the city, and in its ruins roam the deformed outcasts of its experiments. Children with claws, invisible foxes and the overlord of them all: the enormous, flying bear, Mord. Huddled in this chemically blighted, life-draining landscape, Rachel and Wick persist at living - he makes biotech to protect their lair, she scavenges for food and tech that will help them survive. But with the arrival of the strange, jellyfish-like creature they call Borne, the couple’s uneasy existence encounters a challenge like none before.

‘We all just want to be people, and none of us know what that really means.’ Jeff VanderMeer’s Rachel summarises the theme of his latest book best. The author’s first novel since his acclaimed Southern Reach Trilogy, VanderMeer’s Borne is a surreal piece of work that examines the idea of identity in a relentlessly unforgiving, post-apocalyptic setting.

Although broken into three sections, Borne is really a book of two halves. The first part is an intimate examination of Rachel’s relationship with Borne after she brings him into her and Wick’s home, and the questions his presence raises. The second evolves the characters in a way that takes these questions and makes them real. The consequences of the answers Borne may or may not have reached about who and what he is, and how those decisions impact the trio are laid out, questioning the nature of relationships, trust, and independence.

Borne is a fascinating character because he is the ultimate blank canvas who speaks as a child without social conditioning. His appearance is ever changing and evolving, as is his mind, preventing definition in any meaningful way. He is childlike, naïve, intelligent and powerful, and with no understanding of himself. He constantly questions Rachel on who and what he is: ‘Am I a weapon? Am I a person?’ Questions ultimately posed not so much to our protagonist but to the reader, challenging us to define what makes a person a person.

One scene where Rachel takes Borne out into the city for the first time echoes a child first discovering the world beyond their home, an experience filled with joy, intrigue, enthusiasm, and dangerous naivety. It’s a tense and wonderful set piece that provides just one in many examples of VanderMeer’s ability to cleverly build on both his characters’ complex dynamic as well as his world.

The simplicity of his set up – The Company, Mord, Rachel, Wick and Borne - is one of the best things about this book, as it leaves no room for distraction. Everything on page is relevant and contributes to the questions being asked. The twists are few but significant and the pacing is occasionally uneven, but overall it’s a delicately written, charming and terrifying read that has you constantly reappraising your conclusions.

Review by


Borne reader reviews

from England

The world that this was set in and many of the ideas were good and enjoyable, it just felt as though it was missing something the whole way through and the background of the characters was not develped as well as could have been. Overall a good read however.

7.5/10 from 2 reviews

Write a reader review

Your rating out of 10

Books you may also enjoy

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

A father and his young son walk alone through burned America, heading slowly for the coast. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. They have nothi [...]

Published: 2006

Score: 113

Our rating: 10.0 | 13 positive reader reviews



by George Orwell

Hidden away in the Record Department of the sprawling Ministry of Truth, Winston Smith skilfully rewrites the past to suit the needs of the Party. Yet he inwardly rebels ag [...]

Published: 1949

Score: 103

Our rating: 10.0 | 3 positive reader reviews


Metro 2033

by Dmitry Glukhovsky

The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boun [...]

Published: 2005

Score: 108

Our rating: 9.9 | 9 positive reader reviews


Swan Song

by Robert McCammon

Facing down an unprecedented malevolent enemy, the government responds with a nuclear attack. America as it was is gone forever, and now every citizen – from the Pres [...]

Published: 1987

Score: 127

Our rating: 9.8 | 29 positive reader reviews