Startlingly original, Orleans brings a whole new take on the term "YA dystopian" or more accurately, brings the genre back to where it should be. Instead of focusing on romance and destructive government schemes, Orleans concentrates on world building and plot progression.
The novel starts off with a punch, launching you directly into the gritty, dark world of Orleans where blood type determines everything and segregates the community due to the deadly Delta Fever. From very early on, it's easy to tell that the world building is most definitely Orleans' pride and glory.
The book starts off with an abrupt, yet fitting, introduction to how the world works without dumping it onto the reader. It tells of how much of the Gulf Coast was hit by numerous disastrous hurricanes and was quarantined after these disasters led to an even more dangerous plague. Now, the population of these areas is mostly living in tribes of blood type. Some 'types are more susceptible to the fever and attack other tribes for blood.
Smith's world is well fleshed out and beautifully constructed. It's not perfect; there are flaws and holes but for the most part, it's pretty nice. It's dark, grim, and, honestly, breath-taking. I am thoroughly impressed by Smith's brilliant approach and take on post-disaster Gulf Coast.
While the world building is fantastic, you can't help but marvel at the diversity of characters. It's neither a white dominated book, nor a black dominated one either. There's a vast diversity in ethnicity in the book. No one really cares too much about ethnicity anymore - as blood type is much more important.
The diversity is also quite subtle. It's not in your face like some authors do. Smith doesn't put "a African-American man" or "a Chinese woman" in ever sentence. It's subtle because, for the most part, the book is written in first person from the heroine, Fen La Guerre's perspective.
Why does this matter?
Fen was raised, for most of her life, in this disaster, this wasteland. She was raised to survive and that was all that mattered to her. Even if it doesn't seem like it, we're raised to identify differences in people. Toddlers can tell differences in ethnicity just because of how we were raised.
Now, to a girl who was raised with one objective, would the color of someone's skin really matter?
Fen is a really excellent heroine. Unlike many others, her character growth wasn't bogged down by romance. Her character really felt like she belonged in the book. Fen felt like a character who really could be living in this world - or more accurately, a person who could really survive in this world.
Armed with only her wit, Fen is somehow supposed to get a newborn baby that was entrusted upon her across the quarantine zone and into the proper United States. Fen doesn't take the task lightly, but that doesn't mean she's not human. At numerous points throughout the point, Fen plays with the thought of letting the baby go to save herself.
Later she meets David, a young scientist in his early twenties. They team up to get the baby across the zone, though each has their reasons. Fen helps David to help herself and David the same. While their relationship matures, it never becomes anything more than a tight bond.
While Fen and David were certainly good characters, they weren't very personal characters. They were characters that you admire from afar, not characters that you can empathize with. I liked their characters a lot but I found it near impossible to step into their shoes.
Overall, Orleans is a pretty good book. It's incredibly readable and the plot and world is very engaging. While it's not perfect in it's world building, plot, or characters, it's really good and I recommend it to anyone who is either sick and tired of dystopians revolving around romance and tyrannical governments or just looking for a good book.