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Hummingbird Salamander

Review

Hummingbird Salamander

Jeff VanderMeer’s latest novel is a morality play of the highest order. It is set in a future possibly not too far from our own, and most of the action takes place in a part of the country that seems recognizable but is never actually named. HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER is as beautiful as it is frightening and consistently surreal from start to finish.

There are no more animals, which is a sad statement about what mankind has done to the earth by destroying one ecosystem after another. The animals that do exist are merely in the form of taxidermy, which called to mind the android animals in Philip K. Dick’s DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, possibly better known as Blade Runner. Jane Smith, our narrator, is a former bodybuilder who now works for a unique security firm and is married with a daughter.

"HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER is as beautiful as it is frightening and consistently surreal from start to finish.... [It] is an exhilarating novel that will stay with readers long after the final page has been turned."

A barista at Jane’s favorite coffee shop hands her an envelope from an anonymous source that holds a key marked #7. It ends up being the key to a storage locker that she locates; upon opening it, she finds the odd-looking taxidermied version of a hummingbird in flight. She recognizes how rare and valuable this item is and ties it to a woman named Silvina, who some saw as an eco-terrorist while others considered to be a savior.

Next to the hummingbird is a signed note from Silvina that simply reads “Hummingbird – Salamander.” Inferring that the note’s subtext includes the phrase “Find Me,” Jane realizes that salamanders typically hid under objects and did not want to be found in much the same manner as the answers she believes Silvina has left out there for her to find. What will these answers be? It is only after reading up on Silvina, as well as a “classic” novel titled Fur that dealt with the world of taxidermy, that Jane thinks she knows what will come next and what she needs to locate.

There are enemies out there who want the same thing as Jane and are determined to prevent her from continuing her journey. One is a mystery man known as Lancer, who Jane believes has been killing everyone in his path on the way to finding out Silvina’s secrets. The other is an individual she refers to as “Hellmouth Jack,” who texts her and seems to be on her side --- but after a while it is difficult for Jane and the reader to tell. In the end, she is seeking those who are able to put a price on life and death and the secrets they want to share with the rest of the world about where we have gone wrong.

HUMMINGBIRD SALAMANDER is an exhilarating novel that will stay with readers long after the final page has been turned. Here we have a depiction of a world that easily could be ours, riddled with various pandemics and decimated by greed and hate. VanderMeer shows us this very real horror, and then reveals near the end of the book a beautiful scene involving the final part of Jane’s search. It is a haunting image that I will not soon forget.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on April 30, 2021

Hummingbird Salamander
by Jeff VanderMeer

  • Publication Date: April 6, 2021
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: MCD
  • ISBN-10: 0374173540
  • ISBN-13: 9780374173548