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The Orphanmaster Hardcover – Large Print, June 19, 2012

3.4 out of 5 stars 96 customer reviews

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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 was born in Tarrytown, New York. An honors graduate of Barnard College, she is the author of several works of nonfiction, including Love, Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance and The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Built a Mansion, a Fortune, and a Dynasty. She lives in Ossining, New York.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023647
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023646
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #634,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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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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Format: Hardcover
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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