Review: Orleans

Review: OrleansOrleans by Sherri L. Smith
Published by Putnam Juvenile on March 7, 2013
Genres: Adventure, Post-Apocalyptic, Science Fiction
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Borrowed
Goodreads
four-stars

First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And the Wall.

After a string of devastating hurricanes and a severe outbreak of Delta Fever, the Gulf Coast has been quarantined. Years later, residents of the Outer States are under the assumption that life in the Delta is all but extinct… but in reality, a new primitive society has been born.

Fen de la Guerre is living with the O-Positive blood tribe in the Delta when they are ambushed. Left with her tribe leader’s newborn, Fen is determined to get the baby to a better life over the wall before her blood becomes tainted. Fen meets Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has snuck into the Delta illegally. Brought together by chance, kept together by danger, Fen and Daniel navigate the wasteland of Orleans. In the end, they are each other’s last hope for survival.

Sherri L. Smith delivers an expertly crafted story about a fierce heroine whose powerful voice and firm determination will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.

First Sentence: “After the storm deaths came other casualties: deaths by debris, cuts, tetanus, or loss of blood; suicide; heart attacks caused by stress of loss, or stress of rebuilding, or just as often from the lack of medicines used to treat common ailments.”

Review:
Given the onslaught of dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, knowing which authors have simply hopped the trend bandwagon heading to Fametown and which just had a story to tell that happened to fall into the genre can be incredibly difficult. They’ve all got, more or less, visually arresting covers and a whole lot of marketing to convince you that this one will be the real deal. Well, my friends, Sherri L. Smith has most definitely not written this book in a bid to earn more readers by writing for a popular genre. Where the most popular of this sub-genre these days focus more on romance, Orleans pays attention to world building above all else.

Obviously, I really, really love dystopian and post-apocalyptic fiction, otherwise I wouldn’t read as much of it as I do. However, I go into this endeavor well-aware of the weaknesses of such novels. More often than not, the world building receives minor attention, taking a backseat to either mindless action or star-crossed romance. Sometimes, the author does not even offer the slightest hint of how the world evolved into its current state.

In Orleans, Smith starts the reader off with explanations, a detailing of how the Gulf coast went down the shitter, and got quarantined from the United States after a series of devastating hurricanes that resulted in an even more disastrous disease. The individuals still living in Orleans, having dropped the new as they’re nothing new and shiny about this place anymore, live a very different life than the one we know. The bulk of the population lives in tribes, organized by blood type, as the disease affects the different blood types in varying strengths. Those with AB blood are most affected, but, as a result, they are most to be feared, since they will attack the other types to take their blood, which helps stave off the illness. From the very beginning, Smith starts building her world and she does not stop until the end, and, y’all, her world is creepy.

On top of the completely stellar world building, Orleans earns so much respect from me for being diverse. People of every race run around Orleans and, for the most part, skin color and heritage do not matter any more; now blood type does. The heroine, Fen de la Guerre, is dark-skinned, but, honestly, I’m not completely sure what her race is; what I do know is that she’s non-white, and so are most of the people running around this book. Also, the cover matches this book perfectly, down to the way her hair’s piled on top of her head.

Fen really does make a marvelous heroine, in that she looks out for herself and does whatever she needs to do to survive. In a lot of survival situations in novels, the heroine’s always trying to save everyone and sacrifice herself, but that rarely strikes me as a realistic. Fen has one person she really cared about and would have died to protect, but that person dies in childbirth in the beginning, asking Fen to take care of her child. Even with this promise in place, Fen considers abandoning the baby at a couple of points to save herself. Later, when she meets a wandering scientist, Daniel, she only helps him to help herself. Her character arc does change a bit, but mostly she’s a hardened warrior who has been through the worst and does not want to go back.

The downside for me was that I never felt any connection to the characters. While interesting, Fen closes herself off to everyone, including the reader. Despite her sections being told in first person, I really just didn’t have a handle on who she was besides a survivor, which, while, utterly believable on the one hand, kept me from engaging completely. Though his sections were in third person, Daniel was still more approachable, but he’s so useless in Orleans that I didn’t feel much for him either. Also, I’m generally not a fan of multiple points of view when they’re not all in either first or third person. The switches between first and third person narration, in general and here specifically, catch me off guard, especially once Daniel and Fen are in the same place.

Other factors worth noting are the writing style and the romance. For the former, be warned that Orleans is written with quite a bit of dialect, as Fen speaks and thinks that way. Her dialect, however is quite mild, mostly consisting of the use of ‘be’ in place of ‘are.’ Though I’m really not a fan of dialect, this did not bother me. To the latter point, there is no romance. None. If you like post-apocalyptics for romance, you’ll want to be passing by this one. As for the rest of us, Orleans serves as a lovely break from the monotony of instalove.

Readers who have mostly given up on post-apocalyptics because you’re sick of all of the sappy romances and pathetic attempts at world building, Orleans will restore just a little bit of your faith in the genre.

Favorite Quote:

“‘And the people,’ he say. ‘Lord, the people. They was black, and white, and yellow, and brown, and pink as lobsters sometimes, too, but they was beautiful. Because they could dance like the city, and sing like the city, and love like the city was loved by the sky and the sea. It was the people who made the city of New Orleans.'”

29 responses to “Review: Orleans”

  1. Your review just reminded me I need to get to this one. Luckily, I’m going on a Penguin frenzy this month. LOL.

  2. Great world-building, awesome heroine, and diversity? Sold. I just read an awesome review of this book on another blog this week–it wasn’t high on my radar before, but it definitely is now! That’s a great quote, too.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

  3. I am also the biggest fan of post-apocalyptic and dystopian novels but lately, like you said, the new books haven’t been up to par with the definition of the genre, either focusing wayyyyyyy too much on romance or barely including any world building. I am glad Orleans fits the genre quite well and I love how you described the world building, but my problem is in the dialect… the reason why I stopped reading Blood Red Road.

    great review!

    Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

    • Christina says:

      I will never stop reading the genre (I don’t think), because there’s so much good that can come out of it, but, at least while it’s so incredibly popular, there’s a lot of crap too. I love a good romance, but it has its place. If the dystopian government exists merely to separate two lovers, you’ve gone the wrong way with your story.

      The dialect is nowhere near as thick as Blood Red Road, and only one perspective has it.

  4. Renae M. says:

    Wait wait? What is this you say? Not focused on romance, emphasis on world-building? *is sold already*

    Woohoo! I need to read this. It sounds like it just might be the dystopian to turn me into a convert. Fen sounds fantastic, the creeptastic world-building sounds fantastic, and yes. Off to Goodreads!

  5. Mariya says:

    This looks like a really, really good book. I’m a huge fan of dystopias anyways but the fact that there is no annoying instalove relationships in this book makes it even more appealing to me.

    • Christina says:

      It was such a nice break from all of that. In post-apocalyptic especially, the focus should be on survival first and foremost. If you happen to find someone to hook up with to make life worth living as you survive, cool, but that should be the main thing.

  6. The world building as well as the fab heroine Fen sounds like it makes this one a winner.
    Happy reading,
    Brandi @ Blkosiner’s Book Blog

  7. As a dystopian addict, I could care less about any type of romance..world-building is what I want, or well fleshed out characters fighting to survive..this sounds awesome and is going on my list!

  8. Kelly says:

    Ooh I’ve got this one from NetGaley, and this makes me want to start it right now! I’m so relieved there’s no romance – I could definitely use a break from it for a while.

    • Christina says:

      Yup, everyone’s very excited to hear that! Romance just doesn’t need to be in every single book, especially when you’re in the middle of running for your life.

  9. I wasn’t really interested in this until reading your review. You are so right about dystopian as a genre – it’s going the way of paranormal romance, where it’s quite clear that authors are riding the tails of the latest trend and trying to cash in on a previous author’s success. I’m so glad to hear that this isn’t the case. So often world-building is totally lacking in dystopians. Either it’s so far out there that it would never happen or it simple doesn’t make sense at all.

    I’m also excited about the diversity displayed here. And yay for accurate covers!

    • Christina says:

      Truth. I wish that they would stop making it dystopian romance or whatever. If there’s a romance, it should be a fairly minor element.

      The cover is gorgeous and accurate AND shows a POC. Win!

  10. Oh, this sounds like a refreshing break from most YA dystopians on that market! I barely had this one on my radar before reading this review, but now I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for it next month. The world sounds absolutely fascinating, so I’m thrilled to know that the world-building is a top priority in this novel, and the separation of tribes by blood type is also fascinating. And you mentioned that this world was creepy so now I’m in even more so. It’s a shame that you didn’t connect with the characters – usually a lack of connection with characters either makes or breaks a book for me, but I don’t know if it’d be a huge issue with this one for me. And yay! No romance!

    • Christina says:

      Very much so. Connecting with the characters is such a personal thing, so it’s a really tough call. You might love them. Who knows? Only you, when you try to read it.

  11. Kat Balcombe says:

    *Breathes* – I always get scared when you review a book I’m looking forward to (although of course I appreciate your honesty in saving my pennies and heart from being broken!), and this is one that’s right up there on my WANT list.

    I can sell out character development for world-building, and it sounds like the author really invested the time to make the world work here.

    In your face, YA Dystopian/Apocalyptic romances, we don’t need you in every book!

    • Christina says:

      Woo! I didn’t have to break your heart this time!

      Dude, you will love this, I think. The world building is so epic, like dark and beautiful and largely sense-making.

  12. thebookwurrm says:

    Your reviews are so amazing. I’m not much into dystopians (I don’t like them at all actually) but you almost sold this book to me.

  13. Heidi says:

    Your thoughts on this one strangely enough could have summed up my own thoughts on Ship Breaker–which is kind of funny since they’re both in the same geographical area and genre. I love fantastic world building, but it bums me out when my connection to the characters suffers as a result. Still, this is pretty easy to overlook on occasion for a good one, and while I’m still not 100% on Orleans, it’s more appealing than so many in the stack.

    • Christina says:

      I haven’t actually read Ship Breaker, and I’m a bit scared of it now after The Windup Girl. I hope his YA is a bit toned down because I was not smart enough for his adult dystopia, though I’m sure it’s very well done.

      There are some that manage characters and world-building, but it’s rare. Hopefully you find time to get to this one!

  14. Amanda says:

    It’s too bad that you weren’t able to really connect with the protagonist, but everything else about the book sounds wonderful! I agree, far too many dystopians/post-apocalyptic novels seem to inexplicably focus on romance. And the whole idea of blood being tainted and how people define themselves? So interesting!

  15. Vivien says:

    World building is key for me. The premise sounds really fantastic!! Definitely on my tbr list!!

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