I was lucky enough to receive a free copy of this in exchange for my thoughts on it. All views and opinions are my own.
This was my choice for Believathon prompt The Dagger – Read a book with a dangerous setting. With hindsight, I’m not sure I’d choose this for that prompt, but it fits a couple of other rooms too, notably The Footprints – read a book with a prominent villain.
Orphans of the Tide by Struan Murray, illustrated by Manuel Sumberac, published by Puffin
I’d heard a lot about how great this was but knew very little about the story itself, but you can’t fail to be pulled straight in when a book begins with a whale ‘beached’ on a rooftop with a boy emerging from its stomach, with only a young inventor brave and quick-witted enough to go up there and help him.
I was hooked immediately.
Ellie (our young inventor) is a typically great female lead – clever, loyal, determined, a little impulsive and with a mind that’s always whirring. I really loved the descriptions of her chaotic workshop; they painted a perfect picture of her and I wanted to spend hours in there looking at all her drawings, half-hatched plans, interesting finds and unfinished creations.
Ellie lives and works in The City – the last city on earth, jutting precariously over the sea, everywhere else destroyed by The Enemy in The Great Drowning that saw the other cities and islands wiped out.
The Enemy returns sporadically, each time claiming a new Vessel to work through and each time claiming more lives.
When Seth emerges from inside the whale (with no idea who or where he is), the other residents of The City are convinced he is The Vessel and set about trying to capture and kill him before The Enemy can use him to return.
Ellie, however, is determined to save him and so begins the darkest, most perilous game of Cat and Mouse you’ve ever seen as Ellie and Seth (aided begrudgingly by Ellie’s best friend Anna) attempt to hide from and outwit The City’s Inquisitors.
Everyone lives in fear of The Enemy and The Vessel and the sense of mass panic, hysteria and tension they create in The City is palpable and all too believable.
I have to confess that the way rumour, fear and alarm spreads through the residents, and the authoratitve, powerful nature of The Inquisitors in charge had me convinced this book was going to take a different path.
However, the route it actually took was brilliant and took me an embarrassing amount of time to cotton on to (I’d guessed at certain things but hadn’t put two and two together!)
And this is, of course, thanks in no small part to the excellent writing and the way it somehow manages to keep up a relentless pace and tension, but also to drip feed information and gradually unfold. The use of old diary entries especially was really effective.
Likewise, our characters feel like they never stop; always on the run, hiding or plotting and planning with wolves at the door. And yet, somehow we’re given time to really get to know them, to explore their back stories, their feelings and their relationships. They have both urgency and depth. And there is space to sensitively explore themes of grief, loss and friendship too.
The setting itself is perfect, managing to feel all at once like a historical town – all cobbles and towers and terraces and alleys, all markets and gossip and hangings; a remote coastal Isle in winter – all wind-swept, salt-sprayed, freezing cold edges; and a dark dystopian future.
It’s a perfect setting for the book, all dark corners, precarious heights, shadows and crashing waves. Matched with Manuel Sumberac’s atmospheric illustrations, the formidable Inquisitors and the absolutely terrific Enemy it all comes together to create a gloriously dark fantasy.
And I’ll leave with a word on The Enemy itself – What. A. Villain. Marvellously evil, it is brilliantly drawn.
Overall, this is a tense and twisting fantasy with a brilliantly dark setting and an even darker Enemy.