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324 pages, Hardcover
First published March 7, 2013
"In the early days before the sky got so angry at the sea and went to war, there was a piece of land between them, and they called her New Orleans. She was a beautiful place, a city that sparkled like diamonds, sang like songbirds and danced a two step to stop men's hearts."
"What is one human day in the life of a ecosystem? Nothing. And still we cannot see."
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...