Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer [audiobook]

Borne: A Novel
By Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My original BORNE audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Jeff VanderMeer presents a compelling post-apocalyptic landscape populated by a pair of highly interesting human characters and vicious biotech experiments run amok in the wastelands.

Rachel and Wick survive by scavenging whatever they can from The City, and steering clear of the massive bio-engineered bear that lords over the ruins. On a scavenging run, Rachel notices something odd stuck to the bear’s fur, which she manages to dislodge and bring back home. What this “it” is, though, defies description – it’s not a plant, nor is it an animal, nor a machine. Or maybe it’s all three. As time goes on, Rachel begins to notice new things about this strange discovery, eventually realizing that Borne is, indeed, sentient. Her partner, Wick, an ex-employee of the biotech Company, wants to dissect Borne, or perhaps scrap him for parts, but she refuses to allow that to happen. While Borne is certainly strange, Rachel becomes not only fond but paternal of it, and she strives to protect Borne from the threats lying within and without their sanctuary.

While the post-apocalyptic world-building is very well done, Borne really thrives and revels in its characters. VanderMeer has created a trio of relateable, sympathetic, and ultimately very human personalities. Rachel and Wick squabble, share their disagreements and keep their secrets. Borne, meanwhile, grows, adapts, and learns, becoming a sounding board for Rachel and a mirror to hold up to humanity in all its brilliance and flaws. Borne is a highly intriguing creation from VanderMeer and one that is highly charismatic in its child-like mentality, at times reminding me a bit of Johnny Five from Short Circuit in its earnestness and keen attempts to learn and study the world.

Although this is primarily a character-driven drama and not an action-heavy sci-fi title, VanderMeer does manage a few terrific set pieces. And with Mord, the larger-than-life bioengineered bear, being so massive a few of these sequences carry the weight of a kaiju-like destructiveness. Others action scenes are smaller in scope, but no less effective and dramatic in their execution, such as an early attempt on Rachel’s life by a gang that invades her sanctuary.

Told entirely from Rachel’s point of view, this is a title that is only made stronger by the brilliance of its narrator. Bahni Turpin delivers a stellar reading of VanderMeer’s terrific writing, completely selling the story and bringing Rachel’s tale to life. Turpin does some solid voice work for each of the characters, but it’s her performance as the titular character that proves just how adept she is as an audiobook narrator. She nails the humor and warmth, and when necessary the anger, of each of the three leads, making this an absolutely engrossing read.

[Note: Audiobook provided for review by the]

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Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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