Friday, 26 July 2013

review: Orleans

by Sherri L. Smith
Putnam Juvenile, March 7 2013
young adult post-apocalyptic

Fen de la Guerre knows how savage Orleans can be. Any place would be, after being ravaged by four hurricanes in ten years and then having a blood virus run amok. So when her tribe is ambushed, her tribe leader is killed and she’s left with her leader’s newborn baby, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life—and that means getting over the Wall.
Daniel’s an outsider making his way in to Orleans. He’s convinced he’s got at least part of the key to the blood fever that keeps Orleans’ habitants segregated from the rest of the country. They band together for survival, but in the heart of a stricken landscape, attaining either of their goals seems more and more impossible.
The cover:

I love the illustration and the way it unfolds, offering a road for the girl and for the reader. (It reminds me of The Drowned Cities’s cover, which is a good thing.) However, the title font treatment is unfortunate; the bevel only serves to accentuate the slimness of the letters, making them seem disproportionate. A flat texturizing would lend the font more gravity, as can be seen in the book’s interior design.

The book:

Orleans starts off oh-so-auspiciously: we’re introduced to Fen in a moment of dialogue, a conversation with a trader that serves to subtly sink us into the world and also steep us in Fen’s wonderfully distinct voice. The blood tribes and culture of the residents of Orleans are explained efficiently yet comprehensively, and the dog-eat-dog atmosphere of the world created by Smith is practically tangible. In fact, the world-building may be the strongest aspect of the book.

With her distinct voice and savvy know-how, it’s hard not to root for Fen. However, her character arc felt incomplete through to the book’s end. Flashbacks set up her past adequately, but it never feels as though her past affects her future or her decisions or goals. This maybe be in part Smith’s preparation for the ending twist, but it left an unfinished dissatisfaction in me. Daniel’s character is similar—his ties to the past don’t seem to have much effect on his present actions—but because he is less relatable (his chapters are written in third-person), I was satisfied with him.

This unresolved feeling extends to the plot as well, to a certain extent. Fen’s and Daniel’s route is circuitous, which is acceptable since it develops both their relationship and the world, but when they do reach the end, it feels as though all that travelling and doubling back were for naught. Don’t get me wrong: Orleans is a very gripping read. It’s hard to put the book down. However, the ending renders the experience unsatisfying. I would happily pick up a sequel, though. Just saying.

Ethnic rating: 3.5 out of 5. Though no skin colour or ethnicities are specifically noted, it's easy to infer from the speaking styles and habits of key characters.

Rating: 2.8 out of 5