Review: ORLEANS by Sherri L. Smith

Review: ORLEANS by Sherri L. Smith

Written by: Sherri L Smith
Published by: Putnam Juvenile
Release date: March 7th, 2013
Genres: Post-Apocalyptic, Sci-Fi, Young Adult
Pages: 336
Source: ARC from ALAMW 2013
Format: select
Buy: B&N, Amazon
Add on: Goodreads

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.

My Thoughts

I was so excited for this book. SO excited. It sounded awesome – doesn’t that synopsis sound awesome?? A fierce heroine, battling against the odds to get her leader’s baby to safety, befriends a scientist who is braving the walled-off city to find a cure for Delta Fever. I had very high hopes for this one.

Sadly, my hopes didn’t pan out. I actually had a really hard time getting through this book.

You know the premise, so I’m just going to talk about my issues (the first-person narration, and a lack of any emotional connection to the plot or characters).

First, Fen’s first-person narration. Here’s a sample:

This still be a crescent city. It still curve with its arms wrapped around the river. I be walking west, where most of the people be.  […] We pass canals what used to be roads and swamp what used to be dirt. We skirt the swamps and it take time.

[Excerpt from ARC.]

I read the first couple pages of the book when I got it in January, and actually thought this would be cool – I was expecting an adjustment period, of course, but then you get used to it, and it adds to the story, right? But for some reason, Fen’s narration was really hard for me to get into, and most of the time had me stumbling over sentences trying to parse her dialect. I understand that it needed to be written like that since it’s in first-person, because that’s how Fen speaks, but to me it just felt like a barrier… instead of adding to the story, it held me back from it. I’m also confused as to why Fen’s sections were written in first-person present tense, while Daniel’s were written in third-person past tense. Why did Fen’s story have to be told in first-person when Daniel’s didn’t? And why the tense-change as well? Maybe I’m being way too critical… but it did add a layer between me and the story that stopped me from really getting into it.

Maybe I wouldn’t have had as much of a problem with those things, though, if I’d felt emotionally connected to the characters at all. Fen is fierce and brave and strong, but she shows almost no emotion throughout the entire book – which is weird since her parts are told in first-person, so we should be able to see inside her head more and see those emotions playing out…? no? Instead she’s driven only by self-preservation.

I got the feeling that she wasn’t even that concerned with getting her leader’s baby out of Orleans, other than to fulfill her promise that she would give the baby a “better life”. She even made excuses a couple of times like, “I could just leave the baby here in this slightly-better-but-still-awful-place, this still counts as a slightly better life.” More than anything, the baby felt like a means to an end, to help Fen feel like she did her part for her tribe leader. Maybe this behavior is realistic, because her struggles in this harsh environment have shaped who she is and what she thinks she needs to be in order to survive (logical, calculating, and not swayed by emotion), but again, it added a barrier that I couldn’t get past and ultimately kept me out of the story.

I was really hopeful that when Daniel showed up — having lost a brother to Delta Fever, driven to sneak into Orleans to research a cure — that we would finally see some emotional connection. But even his sections fell flat. Daniel was pretty helpless in Orleans, and he didn’t bring a lot of emotion to the story, either. There were a couple instances where Daniel was overcome with his and Fen’s situation and I wanted desperately to read that from his perspective — but those moments were told from Fen’s perspective instead, so I didn’t really get much out of them.

The reason I rated this book two and a half stars, instead of two, is because it was pretty exciting in places, and the worldbuilding was interesting. But it ends rather abruptly and we don’t even get to see much of an outcome of Fen’s struggle to save this baby from Orleans. I finished the book thinking, “What, that’s it?” =/

I can predict, though, that Orleans will probably be much more successful for fans of Paolo Bacigalupi’s Ship Breaker. It strikes me as very similar to that series… although I only made it through half of the second book…

9 thoughts on “Review: ORLEANS by Sherri L. Smith

  1. This is only the second review of this that I have read but, they have both been reviews that mention being disappointing. It’s a shame, as this does sound unique, but I think I would struggle to read it, too!

    • Yeah – it was a double struggle, with flat characters plus the dialect issues. Such a strange feeling to be stumbling through reading a book because your brain is sure that there are errors everywhere. :(

  2. This book doesn’t really sound like my kind of book. But it sounded interesting. It’s to bad it didn’t live up to your expectations. I much prefer character driven books myself so I really don’t think I would have liked this one.

    Thanks for the review,

    ~Sara @ Just Another Story

    • See, I thought it was my kind of book at first, because I was expecting the characters to have to be exceptional, to be living through what goes on in this hypothetical-future-Orleans. But I guess not! =/

      Thanks for stopping by :)

  3. I’d say that no matter how great a book’s premise, if you fail to obtain any sort of connection to the main characters, then no matter what happens, the book will never be up to par. It’s such a shame because I was really looking forward to this one too! However, it’s nice to hear the other side of the coin, if only to put my own expectations into check. I’m not sure how I’d handle the switching of tenses or perspective. I have a feeling that might detract from my immersion into the story. Sorry to hear this one didn’t quite live up to your expectations! You win some, you lose some, I suppose.

  4. Conveniently, I just finished this book last night!

    Aw, I’m sorry that Fen’s vernacular narrative didn’t work for you! I’m a huge fan of this type of thing (have been since I read A Clockwork Orange), but I definitely see why it could be annoying or hard to get through. I do think, though, that the tense-change between Daniel and Fen’s narrative was a bit jarring, like you pointed out. When their perspectives switched I seriously had to stop and regroup. Not the best idea, I don’t think.

    And I do agree that there was a lack of emotional connection with the characters. Because the author wrote Fen the way she did, it was really hard to connect.

    • Hi Renae! I actually saw your tweet the other day, of the picture of a page from the book (I think it was Daniel talking about how Orleans was probably mostly deserted?), and I was really curious to hear your thoughts about it. I was just going to lurk and wait for an eventual review to pop up…… lol. /shy new blogger

      Anyway, yeah, I’m usually a big fan of the whole dialect-in-narration thing as well, but for some reason I found Fen’s narration difficult for my brain: It kept making me think there were actual errors happening. I couldn’t switch that off! I think if I could’ve, it would’ve been more enjoyable for me.

      And I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a hard time connecting emotionally. If there’s one thing that distances me from a book, it’s not being able to sympathize with the characters; that’s so hard to do when their emotions either aren’t articulated enough, or don’t come into play very much. =/

      Thanks for dropping by! :)

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