The Orphanmaster

Image

The next semester of my MBA starts in less than a week now, so I figure I better get these reviews out now while I still have my head above water! Plus exciting times—my little brother is graduating from university this weekend, and pretty much every member of my family [except me] has a birthday this week. Lots of fun times to be had before I hit the textbooks.

On the book side, it’s a complete but weird coincidence that I read two books about orphan masters (this one & The Orphan Master’s Son) in a row…I mean, it’s not like orphan master books are all over the place. Orphan books, sure. Orphan masters? I’m not even sure what that is. There also seems to be some disagreement about one word or two. I’m not calling that one.

In this case, an orphan master was apparently a real job in New Amsterdam [now we call that place New York, guys, which is way shorter to write on envelopes] in the mid-1600’s. The idea was that there were a lot of orphans wandering around, & somebody should get those kids off the street & into people’s houses as free labor, dude. I mean, the idealist perspective was apparently to keep the orphans safe, but basically we’re putting them into servanthood while doing lip service to “safety.”

Image

um, maybe you should stop smiling and run, little annie.

But the main character isn’t really the orphan master, Mr. Visser himself—it’s the spunky traditional-female-role-rejecting Blandine von Couvering, the only female tradesperson in the colony. &, of course, her male counterpart, the mysterious British spy, Edward Drummond. Edward is a horrible spy and basically gets nothing spy-related done except write some snarky comments about the governor, but hey, it seems like a fun life.

Image

The story has all the makings of a good historical suspense novel—great historical details, a great setting, interesting characters, a good villain, horrific crimes & the misunderstood heroine and hero that have to race against the clock to save their friends—pretty classic. The problem I had was with the execution [um, pun not intended]. The pacing is funky; the POV switched around so many times in the first hundred pages that I got whiplash. The historical setting has obviously been meticulously researched, which is good, but sometimes that comes out in strange ways—like the paragraph near the beginning of the book that lays out the town map—market street is parallel to blah blah street, which faces blah blah other thing, where this quarter of people lives—completely unnecessarily. And boring.

Image

The rhythm of suspense didn’t flow quite right, either—we find out way too early who’s involved in the suspicious murders, and the characters seem ridiculously slow to figure out who’s behind the whole nefarious scheme. And then right in the middle of the action, things basically take a week-long vacation. Accusations of witchcraft are thrown around. People obsess about making ridiculous jokes about a guy with one leg.

Overall, very fun idea, but it definitely felt like a first novel.  Maybe you should stick to nonfiction, Jean, ‘cause those bits were interesting [other than the town map, I seriously can’t get over the ridiculousness of that part]. But the plot—not so much. Three stars for you, Jean Zimmerman.