Imagine a secret, hidden city that gives a second chance at life for those selected to come: felons, deformed outcasts, those on the fringe of the Outside World. Everyone gets a job, a place to live; but you’re bound to the city forever. You can never leave.
Today I’m reviewing Orange City, by Lee Matthew Goldberg. As the snippet suggests, this is a dystopian novel set in a secret city. The city is ruled by a tyrant, and the most important rule is that its citizens have to obey, or else they end up in the Zones, a place nobody wants to end in.
The concept behind this novel is interesting for sure. While it fits into the classic dystopian structure, it’s always interesting to imagine the extent to what people are willing to do to protect themselves. Obeying orders even when they are cruel and unjust is a recurring theme in human history, and I love how the author exacerbated this aspect of his world.
Graham, the main character, spent most of his life in an emotional hell. He is not a positive example, but, considering how mot of the citizens come from shady backgrounds or have dark pasts and secrets, hardly anyone in this novel can be considered one. They are not whole, they are not pretty. They just are. They survive, willing to cut each other’s throat in order to avoid losing themselves completely. They all scheme against Graham because they’re told to, pawns in a grand scheme of revenge enforced by the villain himself.
Center of this scheme is an experiment to up the City’s productivity, of which Graham is the unknowing and unwilling guinea pig. The arc that showed Graham’s realization of how everyone was messing with him was my favorite part of the novel: it was like watching a train wreck without being able to look away. By the time he realized what was going on, I was already invested in his character and rooting for him. I wanted him to wreak havoc on the City and its master.
While I’m sold on Graham, I’m not really convinced by some of the secondary characters. What confuses me the most is their sudden change of mind after Graham tells them the truth. While I can justify this behavior in Marlena, Gayle bugs me because she’s the one who found him in the first place, hence the main cause of him being stuck in the City. She’s also been a loyal servant to the villain for a very long time. Nevertheless, all it takes is Graham’s speech and she’s converted and ready to join the battle, her reason to be loyal –an important one– quickly dismissed. I’m okay with her change, but I wish I could understand it more.
I also have some issues with the first part of this story. The narrator is not Graham, but a scout called E, who is tasked with recruiting Graham from the Outside World. Nothing wrong with a different POV, except that I expected him to have a less marginal role in Graham’s story afterwards. I feel like this was a missed chance, which is a real pity.
Last nay for this one: the backstory. I wish the truth about Graham’s past was explained in a subtler way, without giving out too much info at once. It might be just me, but I like to discover what’s going on one tiny bit at a time.
All in all, this book was an interesting read, and I am curious to know what is going to happen in the sequel. 3/5 Goodreads stars.