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?