Review: The Orphanmaster

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The OrphanmasterThe Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
Published by Viking Adult on June 19, 2012
Genres: Historical, Mystery, Romance, Thriller
Pages: 432
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars

From a debut novelist, a gripping historical thriller and rousing love story set in seventeenth-century Manhattan

It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.

Suspects abound, including the governor’s wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony’s own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine’s newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony.

Jean Zimmerman brings New Amsterdam and its surrounding wilderness alive for modern-day readers with exacting period detail. Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters, The Orphanmaster is a dramatic page-turner that will appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks.

First Sentence: “On the same day, two murders.”

Review:
The Orphanmaster is Jean Zimmerman’s debut novel. It is not, however, her first foray into publication by any stretch of the imagination. Zimmerman is, first and foremost, a historian. Earlier this year, I read her recently published Love, Fiercely, and quite enjoyed it. Despite that, The Orphanmaster wasn’t really on my radar, and I was going to let it pass me by. Then, one of the lovely folks at Penguin offered me a copy for review, and I couldn’t say no. Guys, I am so, so glad that she offered me an ARC of this and that I accepted.

The first thing I have to mention is Zimmerman’s writing. She has a way with words. The novel is complex and beautiful. I learned new terms and got to appreciate just how crazy Dutch looks. Reading The Orphanmaster is simply a pleasure, through all 416 long pages. This book took me some time to get through, but it was never a struggle.

Now, the story. The story is completely epic. From the first sentence, which definitely had me hooked, I was completely entranced by this whole other world, the past, which Zimmerman transported me to. Set in New Amsterdam in the 1660s, a gigantic cast of characters is centered around the mystery of a series of murders of orphans, done either by a psychopath or a demon.

The plotting and characterization reminded me somewhat of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth, another book I love, although I think this one is better. In the first couple of chapters, I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of characters I was introduced to, all with very weird names, like Aet and Blandine. I worried I wasn’t going to be able to track who was doing what, but Zimmerman does an excellent job, and after the initial onslaught, I had no issues with that.

Blandine was by far my favorite character, which should come as no surprise. She’s an independent, headstrong lass. An orphan herself, she is 22 and as-yet unmarried, though she certainly could be if she wanted to be. Instead, she works (very successfully, I might add) as a trader. I loved her strength, and her openness to other cultures. There are strong themes of racism through the book, and Blandine is a wonderful person who judges people by their actions, not their skin color.

Just to warn you, this book can be quite gruesome. There are rapes, skinnings, murders and cannibalism. This is not a book for the faint of heart. None of this is done to excess or just for shock value, I don’t think, but it is there.

Prior to reading this book, I knew almost nothing about the Dutch presence in what is now New York. I knew they were there for a while, and that the Brits pushed them out. That was about the extent of my knowledge though. I think that period was generally glossed over in history classes as not especially important, or maybe I just forgot. Either way, getting to learn about that colony was totally awesome. There are so many completely fascinating historical goodies in here. If you like to learn from your books, you will love this.

From start to finish, The Orphanmaster is dazzling. Historians should write historical fiction more often. I eagerly anticipate more novels from Zimmerman in the future!

Favorite Quote:

“Drummond appreciated his guest’s initial silence, his respect for the ancient, sacred act of imbibing. Drink first, talk later.”

5 responses to “Review: The Orphanmaster”

  1. kimba88 says:

    Wow from the synopsis to your indepth review and the mention of pillars of the earth..you completely sold me..adding to my list. If i am not lucky enough to win it..i will buy it. I love historical novels and this sounds wonderful..thank you.

  2. Carl says:

    Thanks for the review. It does sound like a good book, and Jean Zimmerman sounds like exactly the right person to have written it. The video is also intriguing, thanks for having included that.

  3. Debbie says:

    This book sounds fascinating!

  4. Nikki says:

    Congrats to Zimmerman on her debut novel! I love books that give a historical background on where it takes places. For me, it helps me to develop a stronger relationship with the characters and the times they lived in.

  5. Oh this sounds so interesting. And I always love a book that can pull you back into time like that. Thanks for a great review!

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