Author: Sherri L. Smith
Genre: Post-Apocalypse, Dystopia, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult
Publisher: Putnam Juvenile
Publication Date: March 2013
Hardcover: 336 Pages
First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And the Wall.
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.
Stand alone or series: I have no idea – it can be read and contained as a standalone (a gut-wrenching punch of a standalone) but has room for future installments
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Format (e- or p-): Print ARC
Why did I read this book: I’ve been dying to read Sherri L. Smith’s work, ever since I saw the synopsis for Flygirl (Ana beat me to the punch). When I saw the synopsis for Orleans, and we were contacted about being part of the blog tour, I instantly pounced on the opportunity.
Trigger Warning: Rape
Words like “gritty” and “powerful” are thrown around so frequently, especially in describing the new wave of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fare, that they’ve lost their significance. But, at the risk of sounding cliche, I will say it because if ever a title deserved these words, it is this book: Orleans is gritty. It is real. And it is powerful.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, killing 971 people. Over the next fifteen years, hurricanes continue to batter the Mississippi River delta, culminating with Hurricane Jesus on October 20, 2019. Jesus is a system of unprecedented size and intensity, and kills an estimated 8,000 people after making landfall, leaving fewer than 10,000 survivors in its wake. Those that do survive face other horrors – deadly debris, a lack of basic necessities (like clean water and food), and subsequent violent crime.
And then, the Delta Fever.
A powerful bloodborne virus, Delta Fever infects and spreads without discrimination. Refugees that are evacuated from Nola and the surrounding regions bring the fever with them, causing an epidemic the likes of which haven’t been seen since the Spanish Flu a century earlier. In response, the government walls off the waterlogged, infected states of Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Texas. A permanent quarantine is put into effect (until such time as a cure is found), and these states are no longer a part of the country. And in this new, wild, world of infection and death, Orleans is born.
Fen de la Guerre is one of Orleans’ children – fierce and hardened, Fen has grown up in the Delta and knows its rules and lessons all too well. An OP (that is, O-positive blood type), like the rest of her tribe and others of the O-phenotype, Fen is a carrier of the Fever but isn’t affected by the disease. And, like her fellow O-types, this means that she faces incredible danger – the other As, Bs, and ABs contract the Fever and deteriorate quickly unless they receive fresh infusions of blood from universal donors – and they hunt, farm, and bleed Os in their desperation. It is this desperation that wipes out Fen’s tribe of OPs, leaving Fen on the run with her beloved friend’s newborn child. Fen knows too well the horrors that could befall an orphan in Orleans, and vows to keep the child alive and get her to the Outer States beyond the quarantine wall before the baby becomes infected with Delta Fever. On this mission, Fen’s path crosses with an outsider – an idealist and doctor, whose research could mean the Delta Fever’s cure, or its weaponization.
I admit that I was drawn to this book in part because it sounded reminiscent of one of my favorite films of last year: the resonant indie hit, Beasts of the Southern Wild. Beyond similarities in premise and setting, this book is also reminiscent of that film in terms of scope and raw emotional power. Like Beasts, Orleans has the same intensity and heartbreak; the same type of fierce, courageous heroine. But Orleans is undoubtedly a darker animal than that film.
The newest novel from Sherri L. Smith, Orleans is (as I’ve said before) a powerful book. It’s a frightening look at what might happen to a world ravaged by climate change and a devastating epidemic – one that fractures a society into tribes of violence and even cannibalistic (exsanguinistic?) extremes. This might not be a book for everyone – it is dark, people. This is a world rife with abuse, rape, blood farming, and violence – but its also a book about the desperate struggle and right to survive. A story with hope at its heart, in the midst of so much blood and death. And this, this juxtaposition of hope in such unflinching brutality, is what makes Orleans such a resonant and important book.
In other words: I loved Orleans. I loved it deeply, painfully, and wholeheartedly.
From a pure plotting and worldbuilding perspective, Orleans is nuanced and utterly believable. This future world, hit by hurricane after hurricane, then rising water levels, then plague and isolation, might be a hyperbolic one – but it feels frighteningly plausible. The deadly Delta Fever and its dividing lines by blood type is also a unique and particularly horrific epidemic – even if this is the stuff of medical horror-fantasy, the rules of this particular fever make sense (and thus, allow for suspension of disbelief). Suffice it to say, Orleans is a grim tale and one that, to me, felt very, very real.
Heroine Fen de la Guerre – a beautiful and fitting name for our whip-sharp protagonist – is one for the ages. Fiercely loyal, Fen has grown up in the most nightmarish of dystopias. After losing her parents, she is taken in by some very bad people and has fought her way free from abuse, finding a new home, a new tribe, and a new family. Fen is a fighter, and her will to survive is the driving force of this book. I love that in spite of everything she has been through and every fresh horror she faces, she never lets go of that powerful flame of hope. I love that Fen is wholly capable, that she figures out her own way to save her friend’s child – unlike other dystopian heroes, Fen cares first and foremost about survival. Not how she looks. Not about a dreamy teenage boy that swoops in to help her out in the nick of time. Fen’s priority is the life of her best friend’s baby girl.
Of course, Fen is not the only character in this story – her cutting narrative is joined by that of Doctor Daniel Weaver, an idealistic outlander who crosses the wall into Orleans in hopes of completing his research and finding a cure for Delta Fever. In contrast to Fen’s hyperalertness and competence, Daniel is completely out of his element and wholly unprepared for the grim reality of Orleans. I love that when he and Fen do team up, it is out of necessity and again that desperate need to survive. Together, they form a new kind of tribe.
And then there’s that important theme of hope – because as dark as Orleans gets, there are these embers of hope throughout. You see it in Daniel’s first glimpse of the Superdome, with the countless hours of work the Ursuline sisters have put into preserving the bones of the tens of thousands dead. It’s there when Fen chooses to hold on to her friend’s baby girl and not abandon her to the blood-hungry dogs and men chasing them. And you better believe it’s there when Fen makes a desperate last gamble to get the child over the wall, damn the cost to herself.
I say again: I loved this book. It is dark and gritty, and it might not be for everyone, but for me? Orleans is damn near perfect, and in the running for one of my top 10 reads of the year.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
There be seagulls catching the breeze overhead. I sneeze and wipe my nose on the back of my bare brown arm.
“That’s the batch of it, Miss de la Guerre. The two books, the formula, and the bottle, genuine glass.” The smuggler McCallan point his boot at the things spread out on my blanket over the broken ground.
We be near the Market, where the old levee used to be, across from St. Louis Cathedral. What once been a green hill now be a beach dune made of debris – everything from washing machines to refrigerators and old cars been hauled and dumped here trying to shore up the levee. But the land gaev way when the river rose, and the junk be left behind. Daddy used to say you could give a history of the place just by looking at those layers of trash.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Additional Thoughts: Today, we are part of the official Orleans blog tour! Make sure to stop by and check out Sherri L. Smith’s Inspirations & Influences post for a chance to win a Orleans survival kit.
Rating: 9 – Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
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