What an interesting and grotesquely beautiful book, painted in vivid shades of despair! I picked Veniss Underground up on a recommendation, and am very glad that I did.
Overall, it is the story of a man seeking to save his lover, and perhaps also his soul, for he blames himself for her circumstances.
On Veniss, the cities are compacted into worlds of their own, each with their own political forces and policing policies; not only above ground, but beneath the world are levels extending far down into the deepest and most despairing depths.
The story picks up with Nicholas and Nicola, brother and sister formed in the same vat, birthed and raised together. Nicholas is an artist and Nicola a civil programmer, so very close when they were young, they were now miles apart both mentally and socially.
Shadrach is friend to Nicholas and former lover of Nicola, a large man who used to run supplies across the wastes in-between cities and now has a deep-rooted fear of the Underground.
When Nicholas goes missing, Shadrach doesn't give it much thought until he finds that not only is Nicola also missing, but pieces of her have turned up at a rich woman's estate.
Shadrach knows that Nicholas was last seen heading for the headquarters of his own mysterious boss, Quinn. Quinn is the ultimate "Living Artist", creating brand new lifeforms both useful and hideous. Nicholas had wanted to purchase a Meerkat from Quinn, in order to protect him from the police who robbed him.
Shadrach vows to find Nicola, and kidnaps the head of her former Meerkat to take into the Underground with him on his quest for Nicola, and his drive to hunt down and kill the enigmatic Quinn.
What makes Jeff Vandermeer's novel so very intriguing is his tri-view approach to telling his tale. The first book, Nicholas, is written in first-person perspective. The second book, Nicola, is written like a dream. That is, the story is told as if someone were telling you what has happened to you and how you felt about it; almost like hypnotism. Extremely unique and surreal angle, Vandermeer manages to pull it off. The third book is told in standard third perspective, as Shadrach descends below Veniss.
The city is fantastic, the underground disturbing and deadly, and the monstrous creations roaming the streets and alleys are truly frightening in their grotesqueries. Mr. Vandermeer's striking vision of the train deep in the depths of the Underworld and the outlandish deeper levels chilled my blood to a comfortably numb state, leaving my eyes widened in shock and my brain reeling with macabre wonder.
I will mention that the book is a bit slow to begin, but I urge you to have patience and stick with it, you will not be disappointed in Veniss. Enjoy!