I’ve been telling myself that I’d start writing some book reviews, and I decided to to stop procrastinating.
The Orphan Fleet, Volume 1 is a print omnibus of two YA fantasy e-novellas by Brendan Detzner. The first follows the adventures of an airship dockworker named Jiaire, and the second focuses on an aristocratic refugee named Amber.
Disclaimer: I know Brendan Detzner personally, but have endeavored to give an impartial review.
The Orphan Fleet
The first story in the duology is set on the Mountain, a mysteriously warm port in an otherwise frozen mountain range, where airships can stop to thaw and their crews and passengers can take a breather on their tramontane journey. Detzner spends a decent chunk of the story setting up the world, showing us a diverse society of orphans and outcasts who have made their home in the clouds, catering to the needs and wants of travelers bound to other parts of the world. One major feature of this society is the Show, a kind of swashbuckling pro wrestling carnival that has an almost religious draw.
The prose is sparse and quick-paced, reflective of the bright and agile but straightforward and uneducated mind of the protagonist, Jiaire. This style will be familiar to anyone who’s read Detzner’s other work, but may be jarring to those expecting a more typical fantasy with exhaustive layers of description. The tight prose also makes the aforementioned worldbuilding move along at an easy clip.
Overall, The Orphan Fleet was a lot of fun and had some truly great elements, but it didn’t blow me away. The main plot hook came a bit late, but the interesting setting and superbly likable characters kept me reading until the action really picked up; and once it did, it was all the high-skies swashbuckling adventure anyone could ask for. Recommended, not just for itself, but because it serves as a great prequel for the next story. Which brings me to…
The Hidden Lands
Unlike its predecessor, The Hidden Lands takes about a page and a half to introduce itself before jumping into the action. Amber, who played an important if largely off-page role in The Orphan Fleet, is escaping the fallout of that role by seeking asylum in the Hidden Lands. Rather than a fantasy adventure, the story unfolds as a much more quiet thriller, full of doubts, questions, and assassinations, as Amber wonders who she can trust, and just how far she can trust them. The prose is on point: more descriptive than in The Orphan Fleet, but still clean; it may appeal more to fantasy traditionalists.
The Embassy District, where much of the story is set, continues the motif of a society of outcasts. While less fantastical than the Mountain, the Embassy District presents a subtler mystery. The people of the Hidden Lands clearly view themselves as far superior to outsiders, to the point that they’ll barely speak to and won’t even look at Amber or the other asylum-seekers. And yet they maintain the Embassy District at their own expense, as a kind of preserve of foreigners, and engage these inferior foreigners to display the arts of their various cultures at the Salon — this book’s answer to the Show, a less flamboyant but no less captivating spectacle.
I think the story really hits its stride with this second book. I found The Hidden Lands to be a great, compelling read, with dynamic and interesting characters inhabiting a vibrant world. Highly recommended.