This book is a 2013 Cybils YA Speculative Fiction nominee.
It feels horribly ironic to be writing this review as the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan reverberates. So, here's my PSA: Post-apocalyptic fiction is no fun at all, when it's not fictional. There are places to support the survivors in South and East Asia: Oxfam International, The Red Cross, and disaster relief groups such as The World Food Programme. All of these are international organizations who can stay mobile and follow the path of the devastation. Thanks for reading.
First came the storms.
Then came the Fever.
And the Wall.
This was a tough book to like, but an easy book to love. I don't like books about disease; I'll just put that out there. They are, to me, TERRIFYING. I had nightmares about this. Considering what happened with Hurricane Katrina in truth, this book has an edge of veracity that makes me deeply, deeply uncomfortable. Why wouldn't we abandon this poor, minority part of the world, again, like we did before? What's stopping us, when we had no shame the first time? Again: nightmares, and I HATED them for making me revisit the ignorance and darkness and death of Katrina. But, what I loved is the book itself. It is darkly atmospheric, and written with an urgency and tautness that drives the narrative. It is so horrifically descriptive that I could imagine being there, breathing the stenches and roiling heat, fly-blown, terrified, and miserable. There was just -- eerie noise and awful smells, and death and bloodshed and memorable, amazing, gobsmacking, terrifying characters.
It was Orleans - no longer so new, or shiny, but just a place to survive.
Concerning Character: Fen de la Guerre - whose name is so amazingly prescient it kind of kills me; fin de la guerre, anyone? End of the war? - has lived in the trenches for what seems like all of her life. She remembers only flashes of what things were like before - before the endless hurricanes, that flooded and devastated the South, before the Delta Fever that sucked the life out of what was the city of New Orleans; before the government - and the Army Corps of Engineers - and the world - gave up on them and withdrew to the Outer States and left them to die.
Life has a way of continuing, even in the most primitive and dire of circumstances. The South still survives, with open-air markets, food, hidden camps, and -- a tribal way of life. Oddly, race is no longer really a huge deal in Orleans - everything is divided by blood type, and who can survive the blood-borne virus called Delta Fever. Stripped to the basics, the world turns around trade and survival... and war, for there are some who hunt and farm the Universal Donors for their blood...
Tribe is life, in Fen's world. Her parents are gone, her world is gone, but through her Tribe, she survives. The OP - O-Positive blood type - tribe Fen lives with is almost like family, if family is fierce and serious and constantly watchful and working, and not big on displays of affection or rest. They're organized, and well-led, but danger is everywhere. It strikes without warning - and without mercy, leaving Fen homeless and in charge of a newborn infant. Her promise to the last member of her tribe, to get the baby out and over the Wall, so that she will have a chance at a new and better life is now the only thing that matters...
When she meets Daniel, an outsider, a blind idealist, and a scientist from the Outer States who has managed to creep over the wall, Fen is both curious and disgusted. He's an idiot - unprepared - and maybe going to get them both killed. But, he also might represent a way out...
We say "edgy" and "dark" a great deal about post-apocalyptic fiction. These words are actually true of this novel. There is no young love, to lighten the narrative (and make you deeply irritated with the main character as she goes off into la-la land at inopportune times). There is nothing about appearance - Fen is vain about her braids, only because her best friend braided them, and all she has left is the memory - but she keeps the memory, and sells the hair, because she has to... there is nothing uplifting nor romantic about dirt and disease and death. There is endless struggle, filth, blood, injury, wild animals, vicious, cannibalistic murderers, and the constant specter of violence. It's drama around every turn, and it's scary and tough and brutal - and worth reading, because it's about the WILL. TO. SURVIVE. And doing whatever it takes. This is a book about hope in not just the dark, but in hell. I hope it makes readers rethink themselves, and promise themselves to be survivors, no matter what.
WARNING: This book may have you swatting mosquitoes which are not there. Do not read while operating heavy machinery. No matter what that twitching is in your eye, you do not have Delta Fever. Learning your blood type in biology was just the beginning. Nobody can "bust" anyone back to the Stone Age. Newborns really don't do anything but eat, sleep, and poop. You are not hardcore enough to be named "end of the war." Survival cannot be overrated.
This is also my entry for A MORE DIVERSE UNIVERSE. Check out Aarti's Mr. Linky to see more diverse speculative fiction choice for this weekend.
I found my copy at the library. You can find ORLEANS by Sherri L. Smith online, or at an independent bookstore near you!