DNF Book Review: The Wanderers, Kate Ormand (2015)

September 7th, 2015 7:00 am by Kelly Garbato

 

A Unique Twist on Shape-Shifters with Fast-Paced Action, Thrilling Adventure, Mystery, and a Bit of Romance

Flo lives an eccentric life—she travels with a popular circus in which the main acts star orphaned children with secret shape-shifting abilities. Once Flo turns sixteen, she must perform, but she’s not ready. While practicing jumping a flaming hurdle in a clearing beside the circus, she spots a dark figure in the trees and fears he saw her shift. The news sends the circus into a panic.

In Flo’s world, shifters are unknown to humans with the exception of a secret organization—the EOS, referred to as “hunters.” Hunters capture and kill. They send some shifters to labs for observation and testing—testing they don’t often survive—and deem others useless, a danger to society, and eliminate them. To avoid discovery, shifters travel in packs, constantly moving and keeping themselves hidden. Up until now, the circus was the perfect disguise.

Believing she has brought attention to the group, Flo feels dread and anxiety, causing her to make a mistake during her performance in front of the audience—a mistake that triggers a violent attack from the hunters.

Flo manages to flee the torched circus grounds with Jett, the bear shifter who loves her; the annoying elephant triplets; and a bratty tiger named Pru. Together they begin a new journey, alone in a world they don’t understand and don’t know how to navigate. On the run, they unravel secrets and lies that surround the circus and their lives—secrets and lies that all point to the unthinkable: Have they been betrayed by the people they trusted most?

(Synopsis via Goodreads.)

(Full disclosure: I received a free electronic ARC for review through Edelweiss.)

On a scale of one to ten, my level of excitement over The Wanderers scored around a seven or eight – not bad for an author I’ve never read before. So I was pretty bummed to find myself DNF’ing this one at the 41% mark.

I mean, just look at that ridiculous cover: lush and gorgeous and full of mystery! I know what they say about not judging a book, but the lovely circus artwork featured on the cover had me jonesing for a peek inside.

Not to mention, 2015 has seen some amazing novels starring badass lady carnies: Erika Swyler’s The Book of Speculation and Leslie Parry’s The Church of Marvels, both of which I absolutely adored, spring to mind. There’s also The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore (want!) and Rachel Vincent’s Menagerie (next on my reading list). And that’s just off the top of my head.

Also, as an ethical vegan, the idea of an animal circus staffed entirely by consenting human(ish) shapeshifters is really quite intriguing. I love circuses and carnivals, but have only been to one since I was a kid: Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas (freaking astounding). Marveling over pachyderms and big cats, without the confinement, torture, and oppression? Sign me up! Bonus points if you can actually watch them shift, because hello? Shapeshifters!

So where did it all go wrong? For starters, the story moves about as fast as molasses. Having just turned sixteen, it’s Flo’s turn to perform in the circus – but she’s terrified. A horse, her act involves jumping over a flaming hurdle; cue daydreams about setting the whole tent ablaze. And yet I can’t help but think her fear runs deeper than this; perhaps she’s nervous about appearing naked and in her animal form in front of others, particularly those who might not understand? It’s as a horse that she’s at her most vulnerable – but also her most powerful. But this is just a guess, as Ormand doesn’t do a particularly good job of building us a window into Flo’s heart and mind.

Which is especially annoying, as Flo spends the first quarter of the book a) fretting over her act and b) mooning over Jett, her best friend/boyfriend. That’s literally all that happens. By the time an actual conflict is introduced in the form of possible hunters (40%), I couldn’t find a fuck to give. I had lost all interest.

The characters are all pretty blah and one-dimensional, and Flo is absolutely lacking in personality. How on earth do you make shapeshifters so uninteresting, I wonder?

The circus itself gets shortchanged too; it’s completely devoid of the expected sense of wonder and magic and showmanship. To be fair, Flo’s circus is barely limping along; the show, and everyone involved with it, seems on the constant verge of bankruptcy. The performers own few of their own possessions; after parties, the crew collects uneaten food to reuse later; and sometimes, the shifters pick the pockets of audience members if they didn’t earn enough through legitimate means. And this contrast – between the public and private faces of the circus, expectation vs. reality – would have made for a compelling element of the story. Problem is, we’re only really treated to the seedy side of the equation.

So many missed opportunities here.

There is an interesting plot line involving protestors, but ultimately it just wasn’t enough to hold my interest. Assuming that this animal circus does indeed contain animals, a group of PETA-like protestors descends on the circus, throwing flour (huh?) at the performers after the show. Nora is characteristically ill-tempered about it, and no one refutes her negative view of the nosey activists – even though they’d surely want someone to intervene if they were being held captive and forced to perform against their will. Which is precisely what the protestors believe. What you’re actively leading them to believe, as it’s preferable to the truth.

Flo wonders if the activists would champion the shifters’ cause (e.g., against the hunters) if they knew the truth. As someone who frequently roots for the “monsters” on Supernatural, I’ll answer that with an unequivocal “YES!”. Every sentient being – whether human, nonhuman, or somewhere twixt the two – deserves to live a life free of exploitation and abuse. Unless you’re feasting on human flesh, in which case it’s off to shifter jail with you. Social contracts, yo.

(This review is also available on Library Thing and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined!)

 

Comments (May contain spoilers!)

Diversity: Not that I noticed, but I DNF’ed at 41%.

Animal-friendly elements: Believing that the circus contains real animals – instead of human(ish) shapeshifters – a group of PETA-like protestors targets the show, even sneaking into the camp one night to throw flour (?) on the performers. They get little love from Nora, who dismisses them a busybodies. I didn’t see anything to refute this view, though I did stop reading at the 41% mark. Flo wonders if the activists would champion their cause (e.g., against the hunters) if they knew the truth. I think the implied answer is “No,” which involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the animal rights philosophy. See my review for more.

 

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