The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman

theoprhanmaster I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Orphanmaster is a historical fiction novel set in 17th century Manhattan (known as the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam back then). Orphaned children are going missing and some are found killed and mutilated. The people of the colony believe it is the witika – a demon eating human flesh. Strangely enough, it’s only the orphaned children that seem to be the victims, so people start to suspect the orphanmaster, Aet Visser.

Blandine von Couvering, a young woman and an orphan herself, is a trader within the colony and dating Peter Styvesant’s nephew. She along with Edward Drummond, who came to the colony as a spy for the English king, decides to investigate the orphan killings and to find out who the witika is. Neither of them believes at first that it could be the orphanmaster, but when Mr Visser commits suicide, the people assume that it is the signature of guilt…

The mere fact that Blandine is looking into the mysterious killings leaves her being accused of being a witch and Edward is discovered for being a spy – both are now facing the death sentence. Blandine will be burned and Edward will be hanged, but they managed to escape.

The book is packed with historical detail and it’s evident that the author’s research was very well done. Interesting facts about the English takeover of New Amsterdam and even a little more insight into the man who was Peter Styvesant (there were a lot of funny jokes made by the people in the colony about his artificial leg!).

Did I enjoy this novel? Honestly speaking, the first half of the novel was not easy for me to read. The descriptions of the child killings and cannibalism were a little too much for me, but I understand it was done for the shock value. However, my curiosity of finding out who the witika was kept me reading. I am still not sure who or what the witika is, because even though the killer was found, this person took advantage of the people’s fear and believe of the witika legend to cover up the despicable killings. I’m confused, because after the killer was found, “someone” killed him – in the exact manner that the witika would have done, according to legend. People believed that whoever met the witika, was struck by “witika fever” and turned into cannibals. I’m not sure if he is the witika or if he has witika fever!

Have you read this book? If so, are you confused by the ending?

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  • I haven’t read it, but I’m intrigued!!! But I really get frustrated with ambiguous endings….I’m a neat and tidy endings kind of girl! Great review!

    • Thanks Ricki! Would you consider reading it? It’s good in terms of historical detail (maybe even too much), but reading about the killings… 🙁

  • i am unsure about this one…eh, I do not think i would love it

    • I guess it’s not for everyone

  • Sounds like the ending is done to make it mysterious purposely? Some authors like ambiguous endings to make you piece together what really happened. I don’t mind a little ambiguity, like Life of Pi where it is more of what you WANT to believe. But too much frustrates me. If the author wrote the story, they better give me somewhat of a path to his/her intended ending! Lol

    • I think that’s what the author wanted and I don’t mind it at all. I was a little confused, but that’s not the reason I didn’t like the book very much – the killings and details around it was a bit cringe-worthy. Sometimes I do like books with ambiguous endings, it makes you think, but like you it shouldn’t be too much! 🙂

  • I know how much you struggled with it and I am glad you did finish because it shows there is a pull in the story. It is still on my want to read list!

    • I hope you will read it soon, because I’d love to read your thoughts on it! Yes I managed to pull through the first half and then it got interesting.

  • I often have issues with gore and those child killings would probably be really hard for me to stomach. On the flip-side, I am a sucker for a historical novel, and this one sounds unique. Great review!

    • Thanks, Andi. I didn’t know you love historical fiction too! 🙂
      I think you would find the historical detail in this novel interesting, if you can get through the first half…

  • I wanted to read this one. In fact, on Netgalley, I requested this one back on March. They never approved my request. They didn’t NOT approve it either. They’ve left me hanging for months. And now I’m kind of glad. I don’t think I would enjoy this one.

    I think you did a good and fair review considering how much you struggled with this one.

    • Thanks, Rory! I also have a few Netgalley requests that’s been pending for months. I don’t know why they don’t just decline it if they cannot approve it.

  • I’ve had this one on my e-reader for a while now and have been really curious about it. I heard it was really good, but I never really knew much depth of the story. You kind of have me wanting to read it to know more!

    • I hope that you enjoy it, Shannon. It isn’t a bad novel, it’s quite interesting. The first half of the novel was just disturbing to me 🙁

  • Ummmm. Yeah. Child killings and cannibalism? I can handle a lot of creepy, but that might just make me pass this one up. Yikes! (Though kudos for finishing, I know it was a slog for you!)

    • Thanks Katie! I’m glad I finished it! Yes that part of the novel really did make me cringe, but later on in the novel there were less detail about the killings. I mean some of the things the “witika” did were done when the person was still alive, it was so cringe-worthy!

  • Hmmm. . . so I don’t think I’d be as disturbed as you were about the creepy killings, because, you know, I like a little dark/creepy. But it does seem interesting that there is an actual killer, who was killed in a fantasy-type-of-way. . . because then what is the truth? Fantasy or real? Interesting. . .

    • I know you like creepy! Yes, so there was the guy who used the believe in the legend to cover up his killings and then he was killed by someone who is either the witika or has witika fever. We will never know, we can only imagine…

  • Hummmm….So the question is, was it a good confusing or a frustrating confusing? Still sounds interesting!

    • Good confusing, because it didn’t frustrate me, but I would really have preferred to know 🙂

  • I started this book a while back but didn’t get too far into it. It wasn’t because it was gruesome, but because it was just kind of dry and I could not get into it. I think it was more of a time and place problem than anything else.

    • I completely understand, because I had the same problem with it. I couldn’t get into it for the first half (apart from the fact that the gruesome details freaked me out too). I’m glad I finished it though!

  • Isi

    Looks great except for the creepy part about the murders and mutilations and so on, but I think I would read it anyway. I love to read a good crime novel from time to time 😉

    • It sure was creepy, but I managed to read past it, which means you can too 🙂 I’m sure there are worse creepy scenes in other books!