Hummingbird Salamander by the prolific Jeff VanderMeer (Annihilation; The Strange Bird) is a gripping and uncanny eco-thriller that refuses to keep readers on stable ground. The novel jets into action when its protagonist, who insists readers think of her as "Jane Smith," is handed a mysterious safe deposit key by a barista. Driven by curiosity, Jane tracks down the box, only to find an invitation to an unsettling scavenger hunt inside. With only a taxidermied hummingbird and a note signed by Silvina, a dead eco-terrorist, as guides, Jane begins what ultimately becomes a years-long quest that costs her her job, separates her from her family and threatens her life.
VanderMeer is no stranger to genre bending, but in Hummingbird Salamander he finds his perfect fit: a surreal, noirish, post-apocalyptic story with an unexpected hardboiled detective at its heart. Jane and the novel's genre cut through any attempts at melodrama or sentimentality, and yet both instill a sense of inevitable world-ending that carries its own inherent pathos. As Jane's obsession with finding the "end" of this deepens, readers, too, begin to feel both the futility and yet life-giving importance of her endeavor. The more her quest to find the treasures of a lost world threatens her existence, the more desperate she becomes to sacrifice everything to take one last look at the past. While the reality of Jane's near-extinction world might be suggested to be in the future, the harrowing crisis of her near-extinction mindset remains all too present and haunting. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor