Veniss Underground - Jeff Vandermeer


Scrofulous Fig-Merchant
Oct 3, 2003
Disclaimer & Forward: There is already a review of this book on this site, under The Knivesout Review ( ). Mine is only a fresh perspective.

Second;ly, this appears to be a book which fixates upon taste. It did not meet a few of my tastes, but others (such as Knivesout) seem to have adored it. As I say in the following review, it's worthwhile but didn't knock my socks off.

Veniss Underground - Jeff Vandermeer

I'll be honest, in that I didn't like this book anywhere near as much as I thought I would.

It's not that it's bad, because I certainly don't regret the few hours spent on reading it. In fact Vandermeer clearly has an excellent imagination and a reasonable grasp of the state of things. He shows the realities of a world of biological servitors, the horrors of the underground, and the quasi-triangle between three very odd people.

Firstly, we have Nicolas, a living artist (read: genetics tinkerer) on the way out trying to solicit some new tools, something to set him up for the next big thing. He's lost all his art in a robbery and he's relying upon his friend Shadrach to set him up with Quin, the lord of the (literal) underground and enigmatic master of puppets and genetic manipulation. Shadrach who is haunted by memories of the underground and his love for Nicola.

Then we have Nicola. Her brother and her are twins, on the outs, metaphysically-bonded, she loving him and he her (though to different magnitudes) and Nicola relentlessly obsessing upon his location, is he alright, has something happened to him. She goes to Shadrach for help. Shadrach, who links the two, something of a go-between, in love with nicola, something of a friend to Nicolas, and in the pay of Quin.

The city is peopled by hordes of sentient machine-organisms, meerkats and tiny hindu gods and the bizzare results of tinkering. And beneath it sprawls the kilometers-deep stratified city within a city which is the Veniss Underground. It is into this hell that one of the characters must descend.

So what are the issues Vandermeer tackles? Love, what it means to be human, the nature of fear, resilience, how we are driven by our emotions beyond reason. It is the first of these which he deals with most of all.

How effective is the book in achieving its seeming aims? 50/50. A large part of the book relies upon the horrors of the underground, built-up, impressed upon the mind. Then Vandermeer takes us down beneath and everything is, frankly, not that scary at all. Sure it's weird, and twisted, and there are lots of monsters and disenchanted, but considering what the author was promising it just doesn't hold-up. I never once felt scared. And I never felt that much concern that the main character would succeed. There were a few moments of delightful concern but mostly it was... engaging but dissatisfying.

As to the emotional, rather than the physical side of the book, it seems inexplicable at times. perhaps if I re-read it, but the characters don't always seem real. Or rather, they are established as realistic, human, and then go and do things that make very little sense at all, even in context. My main complaint in this department is Shadrach. However, the meerkats came-across quite well, and the Moreau-esque touches were very pleasing. There are many blooms of fantastic in a garden of quite good.

All in all, I'd rate this a worthwhile read from a promising author, but nothing to get all foamy at the mouth over. As i said, I'd probably like it more on re-read.

7 out of 10.