Orleans Title: Orleans

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

Review:

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

Buy the Book:

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7 Responses to Book Review: Orleans by Sherri L. Smith

  1. Bonnie says:

    This was fantastic, more people definitely need to read this. I originally picked this up because I’m a huge dystopian lover but was surprised at how different and original (and yes, dark) it was! And the primary focus on the storyline and not some uneventful romance was bliss. Fabulous review!
    Bonnie @ Sweet Tidbits

  2. Linda W says:

    I’m so glad you loved it. This book is on my wish list. So glad you brought it to my attention.

  3. Eliza says:

    When I first read about this book on Kirkus I was intrigued. After reading Ms. Smith’s inspirations and this review, I must have this book. It sounds amazing. Even better, there isn’t insta-love, a love triangle, or a plot centered on romance. Hey, I like romance (except for the love triangle which is so over) as much as the next person but not in every single book. Sometimes when you’re fighting for your life developing friendships and allies seem more important. Not sure what this book does but I’d like books to explore other ways men and women can relate to each other – friends, allies, co-workers – other than romantically or sexually.

    Very much looking forward to reading this book.

  4. What a premise! Orleans sounds like true speculative fiction – starting with facts and true events of our world and then expanding up them. Having a disease that affects certain blood types, and those unaffected being the target of the diseased, sounds terrifying but also fascinating. Thank you for the detailed and thoughtful review. I definitely will be reading it myself in the near future.

  5. tanita says:

    Wow, I’m really ready to read this one.
    It’s always hard for us as readers to wait while a writer pulls out their next work, but in Sherri’s case it’s always worth the wait.

    Always!

  6. Eliza says:

    Okay, I read this last week. First piece of advice – don’t take this book to read during the down times when you’re attending a settlement conference. Both the book and settlement hearings are nerve wracking on their own so putting them together is a recipe for nervous overload.

    Fantastic book!! Wow, talk about amazing world building. I was swept away (no pun intended) into this world and just hung on by my fingernails while the story unfolded.

    Things I loved:

    1. Fen!!!! She is awesome. Fierce, loyal, strong, smart, flawed. So not a Mary Sue but amazing and real. She had made it to my list of top fictional characters (not sure yet who she bumped off the list).

    2. Daniel – so sweet, smart but clueless and out of his depth. I love that he was out of his depth once he crossed the wall ’cause there is no way he’d have been prepared for life there.

    3. There is no romance between Fen and Daniel. No forced love story, no insta-love. So refreshing.

    Yes, this book can be a stand alone but I hope there will be others. There are so many questions I want answered (listed below and are spoilery, so proceed with caution). However, this book does work as a stand alone. It can be viewed as simply a slice of time of these folks lives who we’ve met for a few days and got to know a bit about but not everything. I’m okay with that. It’s a brave way to tell a story and realistic. However, I would love to know more.

    **** SPOILER ALERT ******* SPOILER ALERT ***** SPOILER ALERT

    1. Who is Priscilla? Where did she go? Is she the one supplying the guns to the AB tribe?

    2. What was the sample the AB tribe provided to the gun runners? Are these gun runners looking for a way to kill off the residents of the Delta in order to allow the Outer States access to the rich natural resources there?

    3. I’d like to learn more about the conditions of the Outer States.

    4. What were the “Professors” doing that caused the rift and Fen’s parents to leave?

    5. Who/what is protecting the Ursuline nuns?

    6. What happened to Fen?????????

    7. Will Daniel find the cure? Will he keep Enola? Will he go back to Orleans to find Fen? Will his virus get loose?

    8. What the heck was living underground in The Rooftops?

  7. [...] Book Smugglers – “I loved it deeply, painfully, and wholeheartedly.” Respiring Thoughts – “Mostly, I was totally impressed by this book” A [...]

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