Like so many things I first heard of Oranje on reddit. How I don’t remember, but I read the introductory chapter that Jack Lusted posted on his website and was intrigued enough to add it to my backlog. I finished it last night, and while I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it, it didn’t make much of an impression on me. There were certainly some good things about Oranje but these were mostly balanced out by severe mediocrity. Be warned, there are some spoilers ahead.
The concepts in the world that Lusted built were quite interesting; planets allied in nations, or not allied at all, yet tied together by the “Net.” Capitalized internet. Obviously it avoids being limited by the speed of light. The Net has guardians, the Curators, to ensure that it stays free and equal to all. This, naturally, leads them to meddle with the internal politics of the nations, at least from the nations’ point of view. However, when the region of the galaxy known as September is attacked by an outside force the Curators are the ones trying to come to it’s defense.
All of the world building up to this point is well and good, but this is where it gets weird. The big baddies’, the New Commonwealth, modus operandi is to show up with a large fleet above a planet and demand surrender. For some reason, the leaders of these planet decide that even without a military, surrender is not an option, and refuse. The New Commonwealth goes a little overboard with their response, nuking the entire world, but what were the leaders expecting? Yeah, it’s harsh, but they were at least going to wipe out a city or two to make a point. It’s not like anyone tries to take over a planet, and when told no says aw shucks, since you were brave enough to say no I’ll leave. I think this was my main problem with the book, I just couldn’t get on board with the big baddy. Besides, at no point in the book do you get to know anyone affected by the New Commonwealth; there’s no emotional response. All that’s left is some random worlds that the reader knows nothing about that aren’t on the Net anymore.
The solution that the Curators come up with to these attacks is just as unconvincing as the enemy perpetrating them. Because the two main nations are too busy fighting each other to defend independant worlds from The New Commonwealth the Curators want to set up a new nation to defend the region. It just doesn’t make sense. How exactly is a newly forming nation, probably beset by the nations it’s planets succeeded from, going to fight a major enemy force. Even supposing you get a lot of defections from each military you’re going to have a logistical nightmare on your hands. Or maybe I’m just thinking too much.
I know the last paragraph is somewhat of a spoiler, but it can be seen coming from pretty early in the book. That’s another issue I have; the plot sets out on a certain course and sticks to it. Everything that the characters do succeeds. There’s little to no adversity for them; they plan a course of action and are able to execute it with little deviation. I think the biggest hurdle one of them faces is that she’s only allowed to wear white and she really likes colors. I don’t think it helps the reader become invested in the characters.
I know I’ve done a lot of bashing of Oranje, but I don’t want to leave the impression that I think that it’s a bad book. It is solidly mediocre. Though hard to become invested in the story is interesting. The world borrows some ideas from Hyperion, though if I hadn’t just read it I wouldn’t know. It’s the right level of inspiration. The challenges facing the characters is real, it just doesn’t materialize in a real way in this book. From the way the situation is left I think that the sequel could be a lot more interesting. When the book ends there are many directions the story could take, and I hope that Lusted puts some thought into having the characters take a bumpier path.
Now that you’ve read my review, and I’ve written it, I’m going to pick out some other reviews of Oranje to see what others thought, and comment on them. I’m not sure how well it will work, obviously this is my first time doing it, but I think it’s an interesting concept.
The Gal in the Blue Mask: One of the Blue Masked Girl’s major observations is that Lusted tells the story mainly through conversation. I have to say that this did not stick out to me while I was reading. In retrospect I can buy it, and I think the mechanism has potential, but I think it needs some polishing. There were times where I thought the dialog was superfluous, or repetitious. Granted, if that’s the type of storytelling that Lusted is going for I fully support his effort, and would like to see it develop.
Cily on Goodreads: Cily felt the use of dialog made Oranje feel more like a play. (Yet another person who focused on the amount of dialog, I guess that’s a clear message I missed the boat on that. Well, this is supposed to be a learning experience.) I think he’s right in that, and that the story could probably be easily adapted to a screenplay or for theatre. I don’t agree that Oranje gives a good look at political intrigue, I didn’t find the politics nuanced. The issue that Cily had with Oranje was that the dialog “slow[ed] down the rhythm of the narration,” which I find as the perfect way of saying how I felt. He also thought the characters lacked depth, which I also agree with.