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Saturdays in Books

Reviews of speculative fiction, YA, middle grade, and graphic novels, along with stray thoughts, links, and pictures.

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The SFWA European Hall of Fame: Sixteen Contemporary Masterpieces of Science Fiction from the Continent
Kathryn Morrow, James K. Morrow

Review: Orleans

Orleans - Sherri L. Smith

The summary version of this reads like every other YA dystopian:


* Brave young girl making her way in America after a collapse of some sort

* Society has divided itself into groups based on a single characteristic

* Girl meets boy and they must trust each other to survive


But I assure you, this is not like every other one of these books you've read.


For starters, and I'm doing a great job of not using all caps in my excitement, there is no romance here. Not even ever a hint of romance. Girl meets boy who is sealed in a containment suite to avoid catching the disease that infects nearly everyone in Orleans. Boy meets girl with burn scars from wrist to elbow and thinks many things about how well adapted to the environment she is, how young she is for the things she's tackling, and many other things that aren't objectifying. 


Next, Fen, our heroine, isn't trying to change the world. She's just trying to save the baby she promised a dying friend a better life for. She accidentally discovers the mad, evil plans of another faction, and almost everyone she tells is like "that shit again? i guess it was inevitable." Daniel is trying to save the world, but he's not very good at it. You'll see what I mean. Anyway, that means they're working together with different agendas, but both are honest with each other on that point.


The trait people divide themselves into tribes over? Blood type. The pathogen spreads less quickly among groups with the same blood type, so this segregation plays some roll in slowing the ongoing epidemic. Some blood types, however, have worse responses and can get relief from their symptoms with blood transfusions of either clean (disease free) or O- or OP blood. So blood farms and blood brothels and blood hounds wait for OP's who are without a tribe. And even in a tribe, these types are still vulnerable to raiding parties. 


I didn't think I'd ever read one of these things where the reason for factions to exist made sense and the reason for them to fight each other also made sense. 


Fen takes Daniel on a sightseeing tour of every kind of horror and wonder offered in this decaying city. It's the perfect balance of appealing and appalling that makes disaster porn desirable. I admit that I was initially drawn to this title because of the cover. Because of it's resonance with this other cover:



And I know that comparing a book to a video game isn't generally a good thing, but this is one of the best games I have ever played. If Naughty Dog ever licensed Orleans to build a spiritual successor to Last of Us, I'd have that game on release day. This book comes with the same survivalist horror mixed with wonder and beauty, but with a pair of completely different characters in an equally broken world collapsed by a different vector.


It's not without faults. The introductory section and the first chapter feel a bit heavy on worldbuilding details at the expense of actually being immersed in the world. Daniel is unbelievably young for his supposed career advancement. And his reasons for being in Orleans alone seem tenuous at best. Really, trivial complaints overall.


This is Smith's first foray into genre, and I hope not her last.