I’m going to cut to the chase here and be upfront. I gave this book 5 out of 5 solid gold stars and I’d give it another 5 if I could. Actually I can. It’s my blog. 10 gold stars out of 5. So there.
This isn’t to say that it is in any way an objectively perfect book but goddamn it checked all of my boxes. Every single one.
The protagonist is a woman, and she and her male sidekick go on a quest to together and they both do their respective jobs efficiently and with no romantic nonsense derailing the plot. Everyone just gets on with business.
The villain is disabled and many of the characters speak what I strongly expect is a form of ASL to accomodate him.
The landscape is amazing and desolate, there is desert and feral animals and old defunct mines. It’s glorious.
The Boss came from elsewhere, and carries some heavy theories about what caused the end of the world and how that monster might be about to come around again, and Orphan is perfectly placed to try to thwart that second coming. The villain wants the valuable scrap that he suspects the Boss is hiding from him. I think you can guess, but everyone is after the same thing. The same horrible thing.
I can’t go too much into the Indigenous representation here because it would give away some stuff and I dearly want you to go and read this book. But they are there, and mark a powerful reveal.
Be forewarned- like trainspotting, the year of the orphan is essentially written in dialect and it can be a bit hard to get your head around. I know people who have struggled. It made perfect sense to me, because it is exactly how I would imagine the english language would deteriorate in a mining outpost in the absence of education or contact with the rest of the country. Read a bit aloud, if you struggle, it’s basically written in Bogan.
This book was one of the best books I read all year. Strong female characters, indigenous and disabled characters, frank discussion about disease and injury, and a morally ambiguous villain are refreshing to see in a post-apocalyptic science fiction, where stereotypical characters and themes generally reign supreme.
In most, sickness and death happen to the very old and the very young, and they die in the thousands fast and off-screen so to speak. In this, everyone is sick to varying degrees and the society as it hobbles along reminds you constantly of how tenuous life in this world is. Heroes and villains are usually whole and essentially impervious to the dangers they face, unless they’re the unlucky entourage member who gets wounded as a plot device. Not so here. There’s no hormonal mooning or hystrionics masculine authors usually endow their female characters. Orphan has survived as long as she has through her strength and resourcefulness, but she doesn’t just read as a male character flipped female to subvert expectations.
I just… I really enjoyed this, you guys. I haven’t even told you about the bounty hunter or the mine dewlling goblin people yet, you’ll just have to find out for yourselves.