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Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith
4.5
Book Name: Orleans
Author: Sherri L. Smith
Publisher(s): Putnam Juvenile (US) Putnam Publishing Group (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): YA Science Fiction / Dystopia
Release Date: March 7, 2013

I find the post apocalyptic genre simultaneously interesting and frustrating. I think that it has a lot of interesting potential to comment on social trends and social experimentation, but I find that it is frequently bogged down by the same story arcs over and over again. Someone who once was an elite is cast down, discovers that life sucks for everyone else, and starts to fight the system. The hero helps unravel the underlying environmental problem and then fixes it, ushering in a new era of plenty. The downtrodden peasant hits a limit and then fights against their oppressors. Orleans manages to combine all of those into something that is more complicated than it would initially appear.

Orleans takes place in the ruins of New Orleans after multiple hurricanes have stripped the Gulf region over and over to the point that the powers that be write the entire area off, particularly after a virulent incurable disease develops in their wake. The surviving population does the best they can with what they can. They do their best to avoid spreading Gulf Fever further amongst themselves (although everyone is a carrier) by dividing themselves into groups by blood type as some are more vulnerable than others.

Into this mess Fen La Guerre has to figure out a way to get a newborn baby out of the quarantine before the disease takes hold of her. Add in Daniel the naïve virologist who carries doom in his pocket and the strained truces between the blood tribes and Fen really has her work cut out for her.

Anyone who’s been in or around a disaster that involved the displacement of lots of people or is remotely familiar with the aftermath of hurricane Katrina will see echoes of it in this book. The idea of a population being written off as “unviable” by those in charge of making boundaries and building walls manned by armed guards is a chilling one.

The story is told via two points of view: Fen’s and Daniel’s. Daniel’s side is dominated by technology and its distance of third person narration. He is reliant on technology to protect him from Gulf Fever and to sneak past the walls. Fen’s side is told in dialect and in the first person. She’s driven and determined to get that baby out of Orleans and suffers many setbacks and betrayals on the way. Between the two I found myself liking Fen more overall both for her resourcefulness and the scope of the challenges that she finds herself up against. Whereas Daniel has to have his preconceived notions about Orleans smacked out of him every three steps or so and then spend some time clinging to those erroneous ideas, Fen’s reaction was to pick herself and the baby up, get out of Dodge and figure out some other route to take. The young lady has a deadline to keep. Her family ties are a canal system connecting communities and her drive to do right by the baby given to her care dominates the story. In her assumption of responsibility, she’s far more mature than Daniel.

On the social commentary side of things, it was achingly sad how some characters clearly saw themselves as expendable and endlessly frustrating that some seemed so certain that they were the hero of their life’s story. There’s a subplot about the various commercial interests that really want to reclaim the region and in some ways that informs who is going to be “the hero” as the narrative’s history sees it and whose struggles will be elided as unimportant.

I found this an exciting, tense and very sad book about Fen and her history in Orleans. The determination of the better parts of her community make up for a lot, but the specter of erasure was never far from this reader’s mind as Fen sets about her goals. I don’t typically like post apocalyptic stories as most of them have everyone running around like idiots instead of working towards adapting and rebuilding from the ruins, but this book takes on a community’s resurgence and treats in a nuanced way. I enjoyed it a great deal and will happily recommend it.

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Rating: 9.8/10 (5 votes cast)
Orleans by Sherri L. Smith, 9.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
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