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Book Review: Project Ordell, by Susanna Hays

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Project Ordell

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Ordell Rutledge lives in the small town of Blackwick where he helps in his father’s modest automaton shop. While he enjoys interacting with the few people who grace his father’s business, he feels isolated because he can’t relate to them. For ten years, life’s been quaint and peaceful, but Ordell has a secret: he is an automaton, sentient enough to pass as human.

Ordell’s life is upended when the person he trusts most betrays him. Heartbroken, he sets off for Linnesse, a city that accepts automatons as people and is booming with the latest technology. With another sentient automaton, Elias Griffith, at his side, they overcome obstacles and uncover the strange truth behind Ordell’s past. But sometimes the past is best left in the dark.

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Book – Project Ordell

Author – Susanna Hays

Star rating – ★★★☆☆

No. of Pages – 200

Movie Potential – ★★★★

Ease of reading – very easy to read

Would I read it again – Possibly.

** I WAS GIVEN THIS BOOK, BY THE AUTHOR, IN RETURN FOR AN HONEST REVIEW **

Reviewed for Divine Magazine

To be honest, I had high expectations of this story. As a Steampunk, I was immediately excited to read it. Add in that beautiful cover and I was itching to start.

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PLOT

The plot is very original and creative. I had a really strong sense of the Steampunk theme at the beginning and was in love with the detail of the world and the storytelling. The way this author writes is very captivating, at the start of the novel.

However, I have to admit that about 20-30% in, the story just begins to take off and it took an unusual turn. To me, this story is an eclectic mix of the films iRobot and The Boxtrolls, with a healthy mix of the Mariah Mundi books. There were elements of all three: the baddie from The Boxtrolls; the Sentient Robots from iRobot, fighting for their freedom; even the Steampunk-ish world of Mariah Mundi.

The Steampunk element – for me – didn’t work. Yes, it was strong at the beginning and the idea of the automatons really intrigued me, but this could easily have been a historical/alternative world romance, without the Steampunk element. Here’s why:

The “robots” didn’t read like robots. They read like a human, with very few mentions of cogs, mechanics, metal or processes. They slept, to recharge; they could have sex, smell, taste, feel complex emotions, have a temper, had their own thoughts and opinions, could fight and have blood drawn. But, somehow, they were still a machine. This really confused me. I was basically reading about a human being, who I was expected to believe was a robot. And this is where one star disappeared. Had the Steampunk element actually been followed through on, with much more detail and strength, this story would have been a solid 5 for me.

Another issue I had was with the “adventure” of the story. I must have spent about 70% of the book thinking “something big is going to happen.” Nearly every chapter ended on a cliffhanger, where a tension set in and I expected some massive danger to lurk on the next page. But it was never as dangerous as I expected, never quite as exciting as the lead up suggested and they always got out of it pretty easily. The trouble nearly always resolved itself, the danger never actually putting any character in mortal peril and I guessed the ending.

That, really, should have knocked another star off. But I let it slide. I’m used to a lot of action in my books and the only Steampunk novels I’ve read, before this, were M/F fantasy novels and they were most definitely more solid in the action and Steampunk elements. I didn’t remove a star for this books lack of that, because it’s unfair to compare the two.

There are great things about this book. It began as very intriguing, original and clever. There were great moments of humour. Some really fun adventures and a few zingy one liners.

It just couldn’t maintain this throughout. There were dips and bumps along the way, where things grew a little stale and predictable. There were a few things that didn’t make sense. Ordell, our main character, was fascinated by a little girl and her sick father, desperate to help. Yet, we’re never told if he actually did. Despite him being consumed with thoughts of them, in the run up to him actually learning how to help, that issue is never fully resolved or even implied. That felt wrong.

I didn’t understand the significance of the ‘revolution’ since it led nowhere. I expected a massive community of sentient robots all fighting together against the oppressive humans, but it never happened. I expected some form of actual revolution action, which never happened. And, despite desperately trying to reach Linnesse through the whole book, they don’t get there until the last few pages.

I think, if you remove the ‘sex bots’ idea and leave the robots as slaves, remove the nudity and the sex scenes, then this would be an awesome M/M romance, with a Steampunk element, for the YA market. And, truthfully, that’s how I read it. It felt so much like a YA novel that it could have been an amazing 5 star, if the sex and sex bots weren’t included. But, because they were, my expectations were higher. The adventure, the danger and such would have been spot on for a YA; nothing too gory or nerve-shattering, but just perfect for the YA market.

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CHARACTERS

I loved the characters. Ordell is this feisty guy, in his twenties (apparently) who is funny, moody, stubborn and so much more. But I never really see him as a robot. He’s too human. The fact that he can’t taste food makes no difference to that.

Elias, too, is a brilliant character. He’s fun, whimsical, but also very protective of Ordell. I actually think I like him better than Ordell, though at times I would swing from one to the other.

The supporting characters all have their place and even the villain has his redeeming qualities. But, as I said above, their personalities read perfectly for a YA novel. Not so much for an adult, 18+ novel, which is what this is supposed to be.

Ordell is supposed to be in real danger, throughout the whole book. Yet, he’s stupid or naive or just stubborn enough to continue to wander off alone. He freaks out Elias, who is trying so hard to protect him. But he never really thinks about how he affects other people. There are even times when, despite both being sentient beings with real human emotions, neither have a clue what they’re saying or doing. Their arguments really confused me, because I often couldn’t understand why they were blowing up into shouting matches. Not that the matter was trivial. I literally couldn’t understand what they were arguing about. It made no sense.

The villain, too, doesn’t measure up. He starts out creepy and sleazy, but there are too many moments of a broken man trying to keep a brave face. I’m not sure why the author redeemed him in the end, but I saw it coming and it made the risk to Ordell so much less than it should have been. I was never, not in all the times he was captured or in danger, actually concerned for his safety. Physical, mental or otherwise.

Taking this book as it’s presented – an 18+ Steampunk novel, with sex scenes – the characters don’t pass muster. Yes, they’re awesome, because of their adventures and fun attitude, and their fight against a baddie. But it’s a YA novel at heart. The characters are immature and not broad enough for an adult novel. They are naive and childish sometimes, but also like moody teenagers at other times.

The romance is also a little weird. It made me uncomfortable, at the start, because they’re both supposed to be robots. The whole mechanics and the “how does that work” aspect really confused me, until I read the actual sex scene. Then, it read more like two humans; with all the right bodily functions, reactions and no mention of ‘rusting’ or any hampering of their ability at all.

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OVERALL

Honestly, I was a little disappointed. I felt a little flat after reading it. I didn’t think about it for hours or days afterward and when I put it down, I wasn’t in an urgent hurry to pick it back up again. I wanted to find out what happened, but not with the kind of excitement I’m used to, with a really great book.

If this had been marketed as a YA romance, it could easily have become a new favourite. The same with the author. They would have become an instant buy, if this was just left as the genre the story demanded. Without the sex and sex bots, this story is perfect. It makes sense, the adventure and danger are just enough, but not too much. And the mechanics aren’t quite so important, within the context of the romance.

As an 18+, adult novel, I needed more. This story was disappointing, because it needed fleshed out more, for an adult audience. The adventure and danger are too predictable and not dangerous enough to ever cause real concern for the characters. The sex/romance element feels misplaced, because of the ‘robot’ issue and it’s all just a bit…flat.

I genuinely enjoyed a lot of aspects of this story, but it just doesn’t belong in the adult M/M world, in my opinion. The plot, characters and world belong in the YA market, where it could comfortably be an excellent read.

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