Talking Animals and an Elusive Golden Sphere: Jeff VanderMeer Charts New Territory with Adventures of Jonathan Lambshead YA Trilogy

In some ways, Jeff VanderMeer’s newly announced young adult trilogy the Adventures of Jonathan Lambshead hearkens back to his prior work: There are mages whose power is rooted in plants and fungus (like the ominous vegetation of Area X in his Southern Reach Trilogy), and talking animals who explore human themes (akin to the sentient is-it-a-plant-or-animal Borne in the forthcoming Borne). But this is also uncharted territory for VanderMeer: The first installment, Jonathan Lambshead and the Golden Sphere, presents an alternate-universe Earth called Aurora, partly inspired by his own favorite books from childhood and built around a character who VanderMeer has known for the past 15 years: Dr. Thackery T. Lambshead.

Publishers Marketplace recently announced the sale:

Jeff VanderMeer’s Jonathan Lambshead and the Golden Sphere, and the next two books in the planned Adventures of Jonathan Lambshead trilogy, about a boy who inherits his grandfather’s mansion on the condition he catalogue the contents, only to uncover not just a basement of collectibles, but three strange doors, evidence his grandfather did not die of natural causes but spectacularly unnatural ones, and clues to the family’s ties to an alternate Europe immersed in a war fought with WW1 technology and dark magic; to Wesley Adams at Farrar, Straus & Giroux Children’s, at auction, in a significant deal by Sally Harding at The Cooke Agency. (World English)

While young Jonathan has a lot to learn about his grandfather, we already know a bit about the mysterious doctor: In co-editing the anthologies The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases and The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, VanderMeer had to come up with “an extensive life” for Dr. Lambshead, as he explained in his blog post announcing the trilogy, which gave him “a lot of history and information in notebooks that never got onto the printed page.”

It was about five years ago that VanderMeer envisioned Jonathan, who knew next to nothing about his grandfather’s legacy: “[a] youth who had an affinity for the wilderness and for animals, which manifested in an empathy almost at times like magic. A youth who had grown up in England and the wilds of North Florida, much as I grew up in the British Commonwealth and then Gainesville and Tallahassee, Florida. Someone who was in some ways advanced for his age and in some ways much younger than his age.”

VanderMeer, who is co-director of the annual Shared Worlds writing camp, explained his own worldbuilding with regard to this new trilogy:

So I let that percolate, in a space where I recall with affection the childhood and teenage favorites I loved growing up (I was always a soft touch for talking animals, so it should come as no surprise that there are talking animals in my series.) And in the same space rose up an parallel Earth called Aurora and a ruthless dictator (all too like, without my meaning it, a certain personage today) of a Franco-Germanic Empire whose sidekicks include the disembodied resurrected head of Napoleon as a military adviser (who lives atop a pneumatic column so he can look down on all he surveys). In opposition, a rag-tag opposition of Bavarian and Czech magicians (yes, there’s magic in the series) and a democratic Muslim Republic. Oh yes–there’s also a land bridge between England and the continent.

What is Jonathan Lambshead’s place in all of this? Well, he and his friends will have to find out–including the meaning of the three doors in Dr. Lambshead’s basement, the strange woman lurking in the shrubbery, and the marmot he encounters that seems preternatural in many ways. Not to mention the Golden Sphere of the title, which is perhaps more consciously elusive than one might expect. Along the way, expect an animated Eiffel Tower, a widening context in which we learn European expansion in Aurora’s timeline has been held in check for a variety of reasons, and some rather peculiar details about Jonathan’s childhood on the coast, near Yorkshire.

Check out VanderMeer’s blog for the rest of the details. “There is also other brilliant news about this trilogy I can’t share quite yet,” he hinted, “but perhaps you can guess given the trend re what’s happened with my other recent novels.”


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