Posted on October 29, 2009 by Monica Valentinelli
Available at Amazon.com
As the final novel in the Ambergris Cycle, FINCH is the conclusion to a complex plot that takes place in a rich, detailed setting. In this novel, the “gray cap” aliens have all but taken over humanity and this is the “last chance” for the rebels to fight back. Although the rebels are lurking in the background, FINCH is primarily about John Finch’s investigation of a double murder of one gray cap and one human. The case turns into some interesting directions, which is why John often reminds us he isn’t really a detective.
First off, I would like to mention that FINCH is constructed as a stand-alone novel. As a reader, you can pick up this book and not know anything about the story before digging in. However, this is not the type of book you will read in one sitting. Every word, chapter and turn of phrase has an intelligent architecture to it that forces you to slow down and savor every concept before realizing how they fit into the rest of the story. The world-building in FINCH is extraordinary; the gray caps utilize an organic-based “technology” from spores. These tiny, seemingly innocuous particles are responsible for many of the City’s (and the citizen’s) woes. They can infect humans, drug them, alter them into half-human/half-alien beings called “Partials.” They can also take over buildings, contain memories, provide messages, be used as instruments of torture and much, much more.
Coupled with the stream of consciousness style of writing, the story takes on an almost psychedelic feel to it as we “watch” the main character, John Finch, struggle through the investigation of a double murder while watching the disintegration of his partner, Wyte. Finch’s character is multi-layered, which makes this story much more than a detective novel. This is — in a word — crunchy. As the story progresses, there are more plot threads picked up and tied together, which is why you really need to pay attention to what happens. I did have a few “Oh Crap!” moments when I realized what VanderMeer was working toward earlier in the novel, and ended up going back and re-reading sections to see how everything tied together.
Characters in FINCH are gritty-yet-realistic. To survive, the human characters aren’t two-dimension beings that are either entirely desperate or rebellious. They are opportunistic and paranoid, angry and passionate, scared and heroic. Some characters, like the Photographer, never provide their real names. Others are hesitant to reveal their true motivations until the time is right. This layer of complexity was interesting to me, because really — the only characters with a clear-cut agenda were the gray caps.
Because I don’t want to give any spoilers away, I’m cautious to talk about the specific details in the plot or the ending. I will say that I felt that FINCH could have easily been split into two books. There is a lot of information revealed in the last section of the story that is really mind-altering, and I found myself losing track of the plot threads that were tied up.
In terms of genre, I don’t think I can appropriately put FINCH into a single bucket. This is an extraordinary, high-quality piece of fiction that could be dissected and analyzed right along other literary works, but it is also mystery, fantasy, science fiction and horror. FINCH offers us a look into the darker part of ourselves and its core concept reminds me a little bit of WAR OF THE WORLDS. “What if an alien force took over? How would we survive?”
A must-read for careful readers who want to savor every word, FINCH is the kind of well-crafted story that can stand the test of time. If you like books along the lines of THE MAGICIANS, China Mieville or Jeff VanderMeer’s previous works like CITY OF SAINTS & MADMEN, I highly recommend that you pick this book up and be prepared for a dark journey to the city of Ambergris.
For more information about this setting, there are a few websites I’d like to mention. The first is Shriekthenovel.com which is about VanderMeer’s novel SHRIEK: AN AFTERWORD set in this same setting. The second is Ambergris.org, which offers a visually-rich look at Ambergris from an artistic perspective created by Scott Eagle.
Review by Monica Valentinelli