Denise Eggleston's Reviews > The Orphanmaster

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
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May 29, 12

bookshelves: first-reads
Read from May 25 to 29, 2012

The Orphanmaster is coming to eat you, or is he? Jean Zimmerman hath assayed several non-fiction tomes, but hath finally decided to scriven a novel. And why, you may ask, am I writing in an archaic fashion?

I just read, The Orphanmaster which is set in the colony of New Amsterdam in the 1660s and somehow the language seems apt. (Full disclosure, I won this book as part of Goodreads First Reader giveaway program.)

New Amsterdam belonged to the Dutch West India Company and was led by a peg-legged, Latin-spewing Dutchman named Petrus Stuyvesant. In Zimmerman’s book we learn that the colony was pressured on all sides by English outposts. Located in one of the world’s best natural harbors, it was situated on the southern tip of Manhattan Island.

The Dutch already had a sense of impending doom, a belief that the English would soon lay claim to their lands and livelihoods. In this atmosphere, orphans start to disappear. The colony’s Orphanmaster (a government post that existed at the time) might be involved in their disappearance, after all, he knows every orphan in the community.

The small colony has many orphans and even imports more from Patria, what they called the Netherlands. It was a time when parents died young and someone needed to ensure that the orphans were fed, clothed, and given jobs. Basically, the Orphanmaster accepted payments to send the youngsters into involuntary servitude.

When his charges start to disappear, a young woman named Blandine von Couvering, herself a former charge of the Orphanmaster, is driven to learn what is happening. Of course, she is beautiful (can’t have anything else in fiction, I guess). She gets help from Edward Drummond, who is of course handsome. He is also a spy for the English.

They find that many orphans are missing and we learn that they are food for a true monster known as a witika (or wendigo). Is there a witika, or can a human be as monstrous as, well, a monster?

That’s the set-up; now for the criticism. First, the author writes in an engaging fashion. She keeps up the suspense and she teaches the reader about she-merchants, witikas, and how the English thought the Dutch were “two-legged cheese worms.”

There’s a lot to assimilate and I enjoyed reading it. However, I am a bit tired of the serial murder trope. Murder is bad enough, but now every murderer must do so serially (and if I ever write a murder mystery, there will be a serial killer in it, sigh). Still, I recommend it.
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