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The Orphanmaster: A Novel of Early Manhattan [Kindle Edition]

Jean Zimmerman
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

From a debut novelist, a gripping historical thriller and rousing love story set in seventeenth-century Manhattan

It’s 1663 in the tiny, hardscrabble Dutch colony of New Amsterdam, now present-day southern Manhattan. Orphan children are going missing, and among those looking into the mysterious state of affairs are a quick-witted twenty-two-year-old trader, Blandine von Couvering, herself an orphan, and a dashing British spy named Edward Drummond.

Suspects abound, including the governor’s wealthy nephew, a green-eyed aristocrat with decadent tastes; an Algonquin trapper who may be possessed by a demon that turns people into cannibals; and the colony’s own corrupt and conflicted orphanmaster. Both the search for the killer and Edward and Blandine’s newfound romance are endangered, however, when Blandine is accused of being a witch and Edward is sentenced to hang for espionage. Meanwhile, war looms as the English king plans to wrest control of the colony.

Jean Zimmerman brings New Amsterdam and its surrounding wilderness alive for modern-day readers with exacting period detail. Lively, fast paced, and full of colorful characters, The Orphanmaster is a dramatic page-turner that will appeal to fans of Hilary Mantel and Geraldine Brooks.

Editorial Reviews


Praise for The Orphanmaster:

The Orphanmaster is a sweeping novel of great and precise imaginative intelligence; it's also the most entertaining and believable historical novel I've read in years. Jean Zimmerman is a debut novelist who already writes like an old master. Read any page of The Orphanmaster and you'll become an instant fan.” – Darin Strauss, author of Half a Life and Chang and Eng

“Jean Zimmerman's seventeenth-century New Amsterdam teems with enough intrigue, lust, and madness to give our twenty-first-century Big Apple a run for its money. And money is what drives this book – liberating, corrupting, forming the only bulwark against a terrifying, chaotic New World. Zimmerman's wit and humanity shine light in a dark woods, creating an uncommonly rich debut.” – Sheri Holman, author of The Dress Lodger

 “Here’s American history turned inside out, animated by Jean Zimmerman’s prodigious imagination. Monsters lurk in the shadows, chaos presses in, legends come alive, and one adventure leads with irresistible force to the next. The Orphanmaster is a breathtaking achievement.” – Joanna Scott, author of Arrogance and Various Antidotes

“[A] compulsively readable, heartbreaking, and grisly mystery set in a wild colonial America.” ALA Booklist

“A feisty young Dutch woman, an English spy, and a local demon all cross paths in 1663 New Amsterdam, in this Ludlumesque historical thriller…a successful mix of historical fiction, spy thriller, and horror.” Library Journal

"As in the best historical fiction, [Zimmerman] has created a kind of truce between the authority of the past and the accessibility of the present, revealing to us what it once meant to be alive, and what that history means to us now ... on nearly every page there is some unobtrusively offered word or description, of food, of architecture, of dress, that brings the period and its people into clearer focus." – USA Today

"Absorbing period fiction with the requisite colorful characters of the era." – The New York Daily News

About the Author

Jean Zimmerman is the author The Orphanmaster and several works of nonfiction, including Love Fiercely and The Women of the House. Born in Tarrytown, New York, she is a graduate of Barnard College and Columbia University School of the Arts. She lives in Ossining, New York.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1874 KB
  • Print Length: 429 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0074VTHZ2
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #141,720 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.5 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "The place is cursed." June 20, 2012
Jean Zimmerman captures the political, religious, and economic climate as well as the culture and physical setting of New Amsterdam in her historical thriller, "The Orphanmaster." The year is 1663. Zimmerman's heroine is the beautiful, brash and quick-witted Blandine van Couvering. The twenty-two year old woman sorely misses her parents and young sister, all dead after a tragic accident at sea. However, she is determined to plan for the future and be her own person, beholden to no one.

Blandine is an up-and-coming trader who "[takes] for granted her independent status before the law" and converses easily in Dutch, English, and French. The only question is: Will she marry her suitor, Kees Bayard, the nephew of Petrus Stuyvesant, New Amsterdam's dictatorial director-general? Against this colorful backdrop of life in the Dutch settlement before the English annexation, Zimmerman presents a macabre murder mystery. A fiend has been abducting, slaughtering, and mutilating children. Blandine and a thirty-three year old English cavalier, Richard Drummond, join forces to catch this sadistic killer.

Zimmerman adroitly depicts the greed of the Dutch West India Company whose members worshipped wealth in all its forms. They liked nothing better than the "musical ringing of coins and hollow clink of wampum." The Dutch bought and sold such commodities as clay pipes, fur pelts, pots and pans, fabric, molasses, knives, and muskets. Although many attended church, they also had a superstitious bent. In their world, demons and witches existed and could do untold harm to innocent people.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
Set in the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam circa 1663, the British moving ever closer to attempted acquisition, Manhattan comes vividly to life in Zimmerman's mesmerizing novel, where industry and opportunity coexist with threat and violence, where Indian Wars, accidents and disease randomly decimate families, children deprived of parents. The characters are critical components of the tale, as much for their representation of class and governance as for their individual roles in the growing mystery of missing orphans. Children- orphans- have begun to disappear, their small bodies, if found, sites of ritual horrors common to the "witika", the demon-beast apparition of Indian lore. While trade flourishes, the director general of the colony, one-legged Petrus Stuyvesant, attempts to tamp a rising panic as a killer stalks the innocent, snatching them from wilderness and public streets with impunity.

Zimmerman's heroine is Blandine van Couvering, a Dutch-American she-merchant stunningly adept at the art of the deal, building her fortune and reputation. And if there is a hero, it is the handsome Edward Drummond, an English spy sent to ferret out the regicides hiding in the New World, the targets of Charles II's redress. Though their relationship begins combatively, and Blandine is (almost) spoken for my Stuyvesant's nephew "Kees" Bayard, it will take the efforts of the unlikely, if striking pair, with some assistance by Blandine's shadow, larger-than-life African Antony Angola and Algonquin tracker Kitane to bring the marauding monster to ground.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bizarre at Times July 2, 2012
Format:Audible Audio Edition
In the young New Netherlands colony, orphans are disappearing. The evidence recovered suggests some may have even been partially eaten. The leading theory is a Native American beast who consumes children. Terrifying an entire community, but irrevocably changing the town's Orphanmaster, a she-merchant and an English spy hunting fugitives.

For such a dark story, I was surprised at how well it was researched. In fact some of the chapters open with headlines. You get a good sense of the politics, social protocol and economic feel of the time period. You can't help but come away with a better understanding of the origins of Manhattan.

Some warnings:
-The story is gruesome throughout
-The story's romance is contrived. It feels sort of forced amongst the rest of the subject matter.
- There are also many narrators telling the story. They are all pretty roughly sketched (but eerily memorable). The collective tells the story of the colony and it's time more than any one character. The timeline isn't fluid either. At times this ensures the reader is lost, and that the author may even be employing the confusion.

So it's not for everyone. But if you keep to it, the novel really picks up momentum towards the end of the story and even becomes focused.

The novel's narrator George Guidall was perfect. He reads the entire novel as if he's voicing over a movie trailer. I will definitely be on the lookout for more performances from him.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Wildly uneven writing September 7, 2012
This book was a trial to read. There is lots of interesting period detail but many of the structures seem contrived and inserted only to make the plot go.
For example, Drummond is a spy whose hobby is making telescopes and he brings glass-making equipment along with him on his spying trips, although he seemingly is a grain merchant but does not learn about grain to make his story work. Not very believable. Blandine is a super-woman who knows and does everything (she knows the intricate details of gun history and making, she must have picked this up before she became an orphan) and has made a special gun, smithing the iron hoops herself. They take a sleigh up a frozen river and get near Springfield in one day. Over 100 miles in one day, in the cold?
All the egregious errors and a few seemingly anachronistic phrases just burst the believability bubble for me and I finished the book rather disappointed that it hadn't been edited better.
The period detail makes the book interesting but the author needs a lot more advice about crafting plot details so that they remain believable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid historical fiction.
Sort of creepy but written well. Solid historical fiction. You feel as if you are there. Characters are well developed.
Published 6 days ago by Kristine S. Hansbery
3.0 out of 5 stars Wanted to Like it more than I actually did
Orphans are disappearing throughout New Amsterdam. And who do the colonists blame? An Indian demon.

I wanted to like this book much more than I ended up liking it. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Megan
3.0 out of 5 stars more a romance than a novel but it would make a great film
This was the last book in the fiction section of a small branch library near the author’s hometown of Tarrytown, just north of Manhattan. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Brian Probert
4.0 out of 5 stars Horror and History
Impeccable research and period characters who are entirely believable set in their own expertly drawn place and time--in short, a genuine historical novel--if a bloody-minded one. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Juliet Waldron
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A rather terrifying story, so interesting and compelling
Published 1 month ago by A. Ziner
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
One of the few books I didn't finish after starting it.
Published 2 months ago by Lynne Campbell
5.0 out of 5 stars A dip in the reality pool.
Riveting novel. I had no clue of the children's plight during this time in history! I may read it again.
Published 2 months ago by emrey
3.0 out of 5 stars Unique History
In The Orphan Master, by Jean Zimmerman, you will read about the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam in 1633. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for historical novel fans.
A riveting novel, superb portrait of what was once New Amsterdam. I felt I had time-traveled back to 17th century Manhattan. A most intriguing mystery, too.
Published 4 months ago by Jane Illinger
1.0 out of 5 stars Pass on this one!
Slow to evolve, weak plot, and difficult to be immersed in the story.
Published 5 months ago by Amy Frangoul
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More About the Author

I am a New York-based writer and I have made the history of Manhattan a central focus of both my fiction and nonfiction.

My most recent novel is Savage Girl (Viking, 2014) a mystery with a twist of fable about a "feral child" who gets transformed Pygmalion style into a Gilded Age debutante.

My previous books include the historical novel The Orphanmaster, which told the story of a spunky, beautiful heroine and her sensitive yet manly lover who together embark on a quest to solve a series of grisly crimes in 1663 New Amsterdam.

My most recent nonfiction work was Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance, a portrait of an iconic couple of Gilded Age Manhattan.

An honors graduate of Barnard College, I earned a graduate degree in writing from the Columbia University School of the Arts, published my poetry widely in literary magazines, and received a Writing Fellowship from New York Foundation for the Arts.

I live with my family in Westchester County, New York.

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