Characters in the Vorrh

Characters in the void – I mean, Vorrh. 😛

So this post is mainly for myself. I’m having trouble keeping track of them all, and to relate this to my teacher-reading…Because our brain generates new knowledge by connecting concepts, because this story hasn’t yet drawn any lines between plot, conflict, or characters, I’m having trouble following all of the characters and their individual lives.

Yes. I like reading the book.

No. I’m not sure what’s going on.

This is me trying to connect what I’m reading – its purpose or plot line, in reference to characters.


Anthropophagi – Yellow, pink-spotted, cannibals who feed on humans and attract them deep into the forest with pails of water and food. Once they find you, they cut your Achilles’s heel and drag you back to camp. (Monster in the Vorrh)

Charlotte – Woman married to Frenchman. Compassionate, sympathetic, empathetic.

Cyrena Lohr – 33-year old used-to-be blind woman, who gained her sight after sleeping with Ishmael at the carnival. Wore the costume the “Owl.”

Edward Muggeridge – aka Muybridge, hunter of quiet. 30-year old man who underwent a stagecoach accident and lost part of his vision. Fixed by a doctor and became a famous photographer, more famous for his Native American portraits.

Erstwhile – Old beasts living in the Vorrh with the task to protect the tree of knowledge

Frenchman – aka Raymond Roussel. Writer who compiles the history of the Vorrh, married to Charlotte.

Ghertrude Eloise Tulp – Only child. Daughter of third-generation owner of city’s second-largest timber merchant. Wants to know everything. Can lock pick.

Dr. Gull – aka Sir William, the physical doctor in England, who healed Muggeridge and studies medicine of the soul and mind, most recently anorexics and such.

Flora – Wife of Edward Muybridge.

Irrinipeste – aka Este. Seer who was born in the Vorrh, daughter to Abungu. When she died, her body was made into a bow. Kin to Erstwhile (?). Living heart of the True People (?).

Ishmael – Abnormal white human, raised by the Kin. Smart cyclops.

Kin – Dark-brown machines, made from different material that’s not human, made from Bakelite, like furniture (early plastic). Includes Abel (explains materials and processes), Aklia (explains plants, minerals, earth, and insects), Seth (teach tools, history, inventions), and Luluwa (instructs on animals and their use). Filled with white pus.

Mutter – Slave man who carried boxes to Ghertrude’s 4 Koheler house.

Nebuesel – medicine man doctor who helps Tsungali stitch his jaw back together and make him a new arm & helps make Ishmael a second eye in his face, or makes him normal

Orm – something used to wipe out the Bowman, worked within Limboia. Birthed from the aborted child brought to the Limboia who did some ritual on it to give it consciousness? Correction: Orm is a power/ghost thing that was used to kill Tsungali and protect the Bowman.

Peter Williams – aka, “I,” the only first-person perspective in the book, also known as the Bowman or Oneofthewilliams, married to Este. Soldier in the outpost southeast of Vorrh. Also an armourer, meant to equip and train the new police force. Preferred to butcher “professionally, with a precise tool in skilled hands” (19). “I am a man with four eyes” (362) – is this meant to reference him and Este?

Rumour – all humans and semihumans after Adam

Seil Kor – Black man, wise. Knows the legend of the Vorrh.

Sidrus – some sort of police (107)? An assassin meant to stop the Bowman before he made it to the Vorrh. Correction: An assassin dude meant to protect the Bowman while he makes it to the Vorrh. He’s meant to be the forest defender (???).

Sigmund Mutter – Servant, tight-lipped. Delivers the boxes to 4 Kuhler Brunnen (house).

Tsungali – Black man who worked in the bush police (& British army), uses a Lee-Engfield rifle. Has scars, prophecies, and charms marked in his face to protect against animals, demon, and men. Has dispatched 23 men and 3 demons. He began the Possession Wars – to take back his people’s lands. (Won.)

Williams Maclish – a Scottish used-to-be Black Watch sergeant, who now controls the Limboia (slaves of the Vorrh train)


Right now, I think the book is told from the Frenchman’s point of view or writings about the Vorrh, which is God’s land, partly made of the Garden of Eden. Don’t know much more beyond that. This book is currently skipping between characters, more introductions, and their history, catching up to what they’re doing now. It seems as much of the tension is built from Eloise and Ishmael since Eloise just broke into Ishmael’s house.


Okay, I’m on page 259, and it seems multiple plot lines are going on right now. There’s Eloise who used to teach Ishmael, until he ran away into the Vorrh after accidentally giving back Cyrena her sight (unknowingly). There’s Muybridge who is busy trying to impress Dr. Gull with his photography, until Gull gives in and decides to use photos to help with the study of disease of the mind and will. There’s the Frenchman who traveled into the Vorrh, getting lost because of his stern refusal to follow Seil Kor in his biblical teachings, until Seil Kor comes back to rescue him in the forest. Then there’s Tsungali wanting to kill the Bowman and got hurt in the process, losing use of his jaw and hurting his arm, but is still determined to follow and kill the Bowman into the Vorrh. The Bowman seems like he’s supposed to be the most important person in the book since he’s the singular first-person perspective, and the seer, Este gave him some important task besides constructing his bow from her body. He always seems to have direction of moving into the Vorrh but I still don’t know for what.

Edit 2:


So I finished the book. All 495 pages. Not including the epilogue. (I skipped it.) And basically the plot stands as this: After sleeping with Cyrena, Ishmael left for the Vorrh, wanting to figure himself out. There he saved Tsungali’s life from the Bowman, after which Tsungali offered to take Ishmael to the medicine man (Nebuesel) to give him a new face with the extra eye that Tsungali had found upon one of the Anthropophagi. While this is happening, Ghertrude and Cyrena look to bring him home, first using the Orm, controlled by the doctor and Maclish, only to fail, which brings about Mutter killing the doctor since he threatened the girls’ reputation (being fearful of them ruining his reputation). Along the way, we find out Ghertrude is pregnant, never learning whose child, only that it happened along the same time as the carnival. Later, Ishmael and Tsungali make it back to the medicine man, who remakes Ishmael’s face and Tsungali’s arm, and where, through paranoia, Sidrus comes to kill Tsungali and through doubt lets Ishmael live until Nebuesel makes it back to save him. Nebuesel, upset, threatens Sidrus and lets him escape the hut after feeding him poison, and lets Tsungali’s ghost stay to protect Ishmael until the cyclops leaves for the city to go back to his love, Cyrena. After we found out, Sidrus did survive but only after mutilation from the poison, where he then decides to go into the Vorrh to fix himself.

Then there’s Muybridge with his photography, who in the end goes crazy, thinking Dr. Gull is still alive when he’s not, perhaps thinking he can capture things in photographs that’s not in the physical world. 

Then the Frenchman, who went home after losing his memories of Seil Kor to the Vorrh, where Seil Kor died from the Orm on accident. 

In the end, we find out that Sidrus, desperate to figure out the purpose/center of the Vorrh, tries to get the knowledge from Williams, by kidnapping the man and torturing him, but the arrow that Wiliams had first shot comes down and kills him, releasing him to freedom, also showing us the exact point where he remembers his wife, Este. Still desperate for the knowledge inside the Vorrh, he hunts back inside the forest, but it’s around this point, when Tsungali shoots his arrow, which seems to make the forest die and disappear.

Still not sure what the book is about. It has to do with the Vorrh, and although I’m reluctant to admit it – since the bow changed hands so late int he game – I do think Este has to do with it, especially with her two arrows. I don’t know… I’m gonna read up and come back.

Edit 3:

This helps. Kij Johnson says this book is in response to Roussel’s Impressions of Africa, and this is the first volume of a trilogy…Doesn’t make me feel any better but it helps a little bit. You can definitely tell this book had a bigger purpose. It just never wanted to let you in on it.

OPINION – is this book worth it?

Currently? Yes. It has compelling enough style that I am still reading even though it is slow, and not quite developing yet. I’m still interested. It is different to want to keep reading, and to need to keep reading. I don’t feel the need or tension to turn the page, so can put the book down whenever I want. But, I want to keep reading because the pieces are interesting enough I want to know what happens.


I don’t think so. It has style, but there’s some scenes and chapters that either have no sense of purpose or are completely random and seem to have been thrown in there for an injection of artificial tension into the story. Like how Ghertrude and Ishmael copulated. Or the focus on the assassins targeting the Bowman. There was one scene of Sidrus who cut apart these other assassins and then cut off the genitals of a kid standing in his way. I get assassins are gruesome, but do all of them necessarily cause such a big scene? I thought assassins were supposed to be secretive. I don’t know. The first part of this book felt more like Cloud Atlas, very artsy and slow and descriptive, as if it was building up to this huge insight, and then there was this break with battles and sex thrown in, and it felt disjointed to his previous style. It’s slowly moving back to match the beginning, and I’m getting back into it. But as of right now, not so much a big fan, though still beautiful writing.

Edit 2:

Okay, so I’m now done with the book after a few days of avoiding it, and overall I have to say I’m confused. I’m not quite sure what the book was about, and I feel I can’t necessarily talk about it since I didn’t understand it so take everything I say with a grain of salt. But that still doesn’t detract from me opinion that I don’t like it. Everyone who knows me can attest to this because I’ve been complaining for quite a few days. But I’m also very vocal, so that could be part of it.

1) There were parts of the book that felt random. I wasn’t quite sure why they were there, such as the part of the priest, Lutchen, and Sidrus (who I believe to be a different Sidrus than the rest of the book because it mentioned a whole lot of people were named that after a famous hero). They killed the Erstwhile, and never appeared again in the book besides these two to three scenes. It was also very abstract, which didn’t help me at all. Another example of randomness on page 418: at least it didn’t fit the character of doctor Nebuesel to call out to Sidrus thinking the cyclops murdered the Bowman.

2) Finally figured out the purpose of the Bowman on page 284! He was meant to travel through the Vorrh…but I already knew that. At least it mentioned his life was a mystery, promising the reader, we’ll never figure out why he has to do this…Yeah. I’m upset. An unsolved mystery is really annoying. But it did mention on 320 that “if the Englishman [Williams] passed through the forest again, he alone would have the opportunity to understand its balance, its future, and maybe even its past. Not since Adam had such a single being altered the purpose and the meaning of the Vorrh…” This makes me think that the purpose of the book is not necessarily the Bowman, but the Vorrh. Makes sense looking at the title.

But it brings about the question, which I had written inside of my copy, why tell me now? Why leave the largest portion of the book a mystery, letting the reader figure it out for themselves, before giving up a plot point and making yourself either repetitious or glory-driven for having such a reversal of the reader’s interpretation of the facts? I have no idea. I don’t know why everything is being given away in the latter portion of the book, though it explains why I was able to follow a little bit easier and read with more vigor. 

But maybe the book is instead about the bow, which would be weird. See, Ishmael got the bow after Oneofthewilliams. Then, Tsungali got the bow. Essentially, the bow is being passed with the two arrows that Este made to each of these three men, where it “[draws] a blood line around all [their] maps of possible tomorrows” (411). Fyi: Ishmael never shoots. If anything, the bow is at least important (symbolic of something?), but it did make me angry to have the bow change hands after being with the same person for four-fifths of the book…

3) There were also parts of the book that felt totally repetitious, such as Maclish and the doctor repeating what we already knew about the Orm hollowing the wrong man. Or, how Ghertrude reveals to Cyrena that she’s pregnant (rather than the fact that she incidentally killed the doctor). A lot of this the reader already knew, and could’ve easily been summarized to show, hey the characters know now, rather than letting the reader read it again.

4) And we’re still introducing characters, albeight nothing more than a quick scene or so. But, it’s still the author ducking into a close third perspective, which makes me feel really strange. As if the author is standing there pointing his finger, saying, remember him! He’ll be important later! Why now?

5) I also find myself somewhat upset at having to go back and correct my definitions, which finds myself begging the question, was the book clear on all its descriptions? If I misinterpreted a lot of these characteristics, that would mean I’m misinterpreting the books plot the entire time. I’m really concerned over this. If there was just one correction, I’m willing to blame myself and let it slide. But there’s actually quite a few.

TL;DR I didn’t like the book. I found it confusing, random, repetitious, and at times withholding information that would’ve been more helpful and informative in the beginning of the book. Overall, I think this book would be more helpful in a style rather than construction sort of way.

Catling, B. The Vorrh. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2015. Print.

8 thoughts on “Characters in the Vorrh

  1. Thank you for that – your list of characters was really useful because I got lost in the middle of the book remembering who was who.
    I’ve only just finished it, including the epilogue which helped a little. I liked it and I’d read the second if it really is part of a trilogy. There are lots of unanswered questions about the house with the cellar – where did Ishmael come from? Who sends the letters to Ghertrude? Who made the Kin? I’m left feeling satisfied with a lot of the endings but wanting to know more.


  2. I’m reading part 2 now, The Erstwhile, and needed to refresh my memory of all the characters and events so this is very helpful. I loved The Vorrh but did find it hard an enjoyable challenge at times but The Erstwhile, in my opinion, is a more fluid read with a clear narrative (so far).


  3. Great summary, a lot of help. I feel completely the same; enjoy reading (listening on audible – really nicely read) but not 100% sure of what is going on.



  4. Hola, I have to say first off that your limerance falling into confusion then sinking deeper and deeper into the sadness of a wasted idea is a life cycle I think many of us readers felt.
    This is a nitpick but, um, this is not a scientific dissection of a book. Its a collection of thoughts and feeling gathered immediately after feeling them. That’s not exactly science. What would be more scientistic would be creating a hypothesis about the book( a thesis if you will) and then using observation and analysis to test that hypothesis. Like science. One could be that it was written in response to Impressions of Africa. You could then test this within the text, comparing and contrasting. To be fair, this is the only thing I’ve seen off this WordPress and it could easily be a small blog that is not connected at all to the larger project of writerly dissection.


    • Hi Jazzercise, thanks for the comment! I appreciate your thoughts, but I’m not really interested in writing an analysis of the the whole theme of the book, especially something that is reminiscent of essays I had to write in college. That is not something that I (or this blog) is about. I have read a little on the book’s response to impressions of africa, and i understand by following this practice, I could result in a deeper analysis of what the book’s about, but I don’t have a lot of time to be writing great compare and contrast essays about the themes of one specifc book. I’m more recording my impressions of specific writing styles, and what I think works or doesn’t work for a reader from an author’s perspective. And while again I’ll acknowledge that by following this whole dissection of the book will result in a greater understanding of those practices, as a teacher, I don’t spend a lot of my time doing things like these. I’m mainly recording brief impressions of writing styles and their effects on a reader. I’m dissecting more of the writer and not the work, and while that can get annoying for potential blog readers, this blog really isn’t for anyone but myself, to help train myself as a writer. That sounds a little selfish, but it’s my blog, and I thought even if others don’t like it, I still believe knowledge should be public, so I’ll share what I think, even if it isn’t much. I guess that goes with being a teacher. Thanks for reading! And feel free to click around. A lot of my posts come in waves when I find the downtime to read and write.


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