Rita and Katrina were only the beginning. Storm after storm followed, and the number of survivors in the flood-wrecked delta shrank each time. Then came the Fever--deadly, and incurable, and a threat to the whole country. So then came the quarantine--a wall was built around the Gulf Coast area, just until the Fever ran its course, or a cure was found. Surely, the government reasoned, that wouldn't take long. Then the survivors could be part of the United States again.
But the Fever has held its own, and everyone still living behind the wall is a carrier. Because the Fever affects different blood types differently, some are healthier than others (the O types are less affect). Tribes, based on blood, have formed, and blood is a commodity.
And a fifteen year old girl, Fen de la Guerre, has just promised a dying woman who was the leader of Fen's tribe of O positives, and who was the only person left to her in the world she truly loves, to save the new born infant her friend died giving birth too. For a short while, the baby will be free of the taint of the fever, so if Fen can keep herself and the baby alive long enough to get to the wall, the baby has a chance of being smuggled out to safety.
But Fen knows to her cost how hard it is to survive in the Delta. Her parents are dead, and she herself endured horrors (including rape) before finding a place in the O positive tribe. War between the tribes is flaring up to an even more deadly level than before, blood slavery, sickness, and human predation are rampant, and Fen has little more than hard won survival skills to keep herself and Baby Girl safe. But she has hope....
Then a new wrinkle enters the picture. Daniel, a young scientist from up north illegally enters the delta, obsessed with finding a cure to the fever. He has no clue what he will find behind the wall...but amidst all the horror and violence, there he meets Fen. And Fen, because she can't just leave him to die, and because there's a chance he can help her, saves his life....and they journey together, until they reach the wall.
This all too believable future world might sound tremendously dark, and Fen's life on her own has been full of horror. The story as a whole is gut-wrenching, page-clenching, and not for the faint of heart. Yet it is not depressing. Because Fen never lets herself sink at all into any self-pity, because she never gives up, because she never considers any choice other than survival, and keeping true to her promises, I couldn't pity her either, though my heart certainly ached something fierce. The brutality is not rendered less brutal by the fact that Fen has kept her integrity, but because she has, and because the reader right in there with her, there's no sense of emotional manipulation by the author. There are bad things. Terrible things. But there is always hope.
There are still decent people in this world--like the Ursuline sisters, still keeping faith and tending to the dead, hope that the ravaged world of the Delta will heal, and, even when I turned the last page, I still had hope for Fen.
And there is one scene in particular, the All Souls' Day parade, that is a tremendous bit of heart-stopping, numinous-filled testimony to the power of the human spirit.
Don't go looking for Daniel to come in and romantically make things all better for Fen. He's a tourist, a babe in the woods, a complication in Fen's mission, and though he does end up with a huge part to play, it's not the part of Fen's lover and protector. Instead, read this one if you want to get to know a girl who is damaged, strong, brave, and sad, who keeps going because there is nothing else to do.
This is one for those looking for multi-cultural sci fi/fantasy--race, but not because it is a story where "race" is important. In this world, people are defined by blood type, so race isn't something we hear much about. It is mentioned, and indeed, there's a sociological twist involving race, blood-type, and tribal identity. Based on the few bits of description of Fen, I pictured her in my mind as black, but skin color is the least of people's worries in this world.
Personal note--Fen narrates her story in the English of the tribes, which doesn't include many verb forms; I was worried that it would bother me, but it didn't.
Read more about Orleans and its creator, Sherri L. Smith, at these other stops on its blog tour:
Monday, March 4 – The Compulsive Reader
Tuesday, March 5 – The Story Siren
Wednesday, March 6 – The OWL for YA
Thursday, March 7** – GreenBeanTeenQueen
Friday, March 8 – I Read Banned Books
Monday, March 11 – Poisoned Rationality
Tuesday, March 12 – The Book Smugglers
Thursday, March 14 – Literary Escapism
Friday, March 15 – Cari’s Book Blog
Friday, March 29 – A.L. Davroe
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher.)