|50% too strange for me and the other 50% completely epic|
The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman
Viking Adult, June 19, 2012
Hardcover 432 pages
Review copy provided by the publisher, thank you (I think)
Burton Book Review Rating:
From a debut novelist, a gripping historical thriller and rousing love story set in seventeenth-century Manhattan
It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.
Suspects abound, including the governor’s wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony’s own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine’s newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony.
This "gripping historical thriller" didn't begin to interest me until after about two hundred pages in. I was confused and disgusted for the first half of this novel as the author attempted literary prowess with the shock value feature, and I was very close to setting it aside. It was only the reviews of other bloggers that pulled me through, as those who had stuck with it had seemed to love it. And there were others who stuck with it and didn't love it either. As a whole, I would say the novel was pretty good, if you could sift through the minutia of the first half.
The first half of the novel plodded slowly along as I slowly began to piece together a semblance of a plot, though it was so painstakingly slow I wondered what the real plot was. Was it about Blandine the girl who bested men at the trade of trading and her romantic life, or was it about the mad psycho killer who ate orphans? (It was about both, of course). There was commentary throughout the novel, perhaps attempting philosophical debate within the story that smacked of wasted space as if to fill up pages (or was this the literary prowess?). I could not help but feel for the first hundred or so pages a sense of nothingness except for the wickedness that was portrayed, as the exact stage of the plot was still at the same stage as the very beginning (145 pages in). As I tried to ignore the grotesque images that predominated the story, I meandered through these lives of various characters where it always seemed like we were going two steps back with each step forward. The orphanmaster himself was a mixture of good and bad, and we wonder about him throughout the entirety of the story. He is indeed the glue that holds it all together, hence the title.