Smith, Sherri L. Orleans. Putnam, 2013.
After Katrina, New Orleans was ravaged with six more hurricanes, each stronger than the previous one. This has brought about an epidemic of Delta Fever, which attacks the blood and eventually causes death. The combination of Delta Fever, hurricanes, and flooding has resulted in a dwindling population and destruction of the city. Out of desperation, the United States government puts up The Wall, in an attempt to quarantine the city and save the rest of the US population from the same fate.
The book begins after the year 2025, and New Orleans is barely recognizable, filled with scavenging, and kidnappings and killings for blood, thus changing the city’s name to Orleans. A type of caste system is in place, with blood typing being at its heart. Many people believe that banding together with others who have the same blood type affords safety and security. However, blood is considered a commodity and many will resort to any measure to get it.
Fifteen-year-old Fen de LaGuerre tries being a freesteader for a while but eventually joins the O positive tribe, led by their pregnant chieftain, Lydia Moray. Lydia goes into labor at the same time that the O positives are attacked by another tribe. Before she dies, she begs Fen to get her newborn baby, who does not have the virus, over The Wall so she will have a chance at a better life.
In the meantime, Daniel Weaver, a twenty-four year old scientist working for the military, has illegally snuck into Orleans to gather data in an attempt to cure Delta Fever. He is carrying with him vials of the mutated live virus because he is afraid what the government will do if it comes into their possession. Wearing a containment suit and armed with a datalink, similar to a tiny computer, Daniel has disguised himself as a leper in order to avoid detection.
Fen’s and Daniel’s paths cross when they are captured by blood hunters and locked up together in a blood farm’s holding cell. Upon escaping, Fen reluctantly decides to help Daniel find the Institute of Post-Separation Studies, where virus research was conducted before The Wall was erected. In return, Daniel will help Fen get Lydia’s baby out of Orleans and into the hands of adoptive parents.
The journey that Daniel and Fen will take to accomplish their tasks is daunting and dangerous, filled with deception, death, sacrifice, and, ultimately, survival of the fittest. There are many backstories to explain how New Orleans became Orleans, how Fen has managed to survive, and why Daniel is searching for a cure for the virus.
Readers, hang on to your hat for a wild, wonderful ride through this book. It is filled with wonderful, descriptive world building and tough, likable characters. Having grown up in Louisiana, I have a soft spot in my heart for any book set in that colorful state. This book was so good that I didn’t want it to end.
Fen de LaGuerre is a tough female protagonist, but has a nurturing side to herself that not many people see. She is a determined, resourceful, and strong young heroine. Fen has been through so much in her young life and seems much wiser beyond her years. I would pit her against Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games) any day of the week!
Daniel, on the other hand, while being smart, is completely clueless when it comes to the inhabitants and terrain of Orleans. Sometimes it seems he has no common sense because his mission blinds him. It takes some time for him to realize that he can actually rely on Fen and trust her judgment.
Orleans is told from the viewpoint and both Fen and Daniel. Fen’s voice will take some getting used to because she “talks tribe”, a type of regional color dialogue. Some readers may find it off-putting, but I felt it lent itself well to the plot. There is a timeline and short section at the beginning of the book explaining how the hurricanes and the fever overtook New Orleans. The front matter also includes pages that look remarkably like primary source documents issued by the government. On a side note, it is refreshing to read a dystopian novel that contains no romance or love interest!
I am officially adding Sherri L. Smith to my favorite list of young adult authors! I plan to read anything she writes! I highly recommend Orleans to high school and public libraries. I enthusiastically give it five out of five fleur de lis!!!!
Reviewer’s note: I was thrilled and lucky enough to get a signed ARC of Orleans from the author at the 2013 TX Library Association Conference in Ft. Worth, Texas in April.