*This book was sent to me by the publisher Viking in exchange for an honest review.
In 1663 New Amsterdam, life is fragile. Attacks by Native Americans are a constant threat, as is attack from the British government or the competing companies. Orphans are a commodity, bought and sold by the orphanmaster for the best price. Blandine van Couvering escaped that fate. Orphaned at 15, she took over her father’s trade business with the help of a large African who, saved from the hangman’s noose, guards Blandine. Edward Drummond is a British spy, there to seek out the colony’s weaknesses. When orphans start to go missing, Blandine and Edward seem to be the only two who care, or at least, the only rational two. Witika fever has terrified the colony – the witika is the demon of the natives who can make a man desire human flesh, and when orphans turn up dead with witika masks and symbols near the bodies, New Amsterdam panics.
The Orphanmaster is an ambitious historical novel that, though incredibly spooky and suspenseful, suffers at times from information overload. Many chapters begin with information dumps about the history and geography of the area, which is interesting but definitely slows an otherwise tense novel.Â The OrphanmasterÂ isn’t a traditional mystery in that it’s fairly evident who the devilish murderer is, but the aspect of adventure is enticing, as is the 17th-century colony and its inhabitants. The narration flips between telling the stories of Blandine and Edward to the story of the killer and a Native American under the influence of the witika.
Though slow in the beginning, The Orphanmaster thoroughly unsettled me and made me want to read more about New York and its origins. (Thankfully, I’ve got just the book for that…)
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