Book Review: Orphan X by Greg Andrew Hurwitz

It looks like this week will be completely filled with book reviews again. Today’s is a thriller. Now, thrillers and I have never been fond companions. I’ve tried to enjoy thrillers, but ultimately I have disliked (or at least not liked) pretty much every one I have read. The only ones which break this mold are those which give more attention to the psychology of the characters, as opposed to the action (such as Silence of the Lambs, which is one of my favorite books).

The only reason I gave this book a chance is because I happened upon an interview with the writer, who emphasized how important it was to understand psychology in order to write complex characters. Since I love complex characters, I decided to read this book…and I was certainly disappointed.

Release: Jan., 2016

Synopsis: Evan Smoak (pronounced ‘smoke’) is a dangerous man. He has many names. The Nowhere Man. Or, by the name he was given as a young child: Orphan X. As a young orphan he was conscripted into a black ops program and trained to be an assassin. As an adult, he left the program, going underground. And now someone is after him, someone who is just as trained and dangerous as he is.

Non-Spoiler Review

There are some things to like about this book. The friendship Evan makes with young Peter. The mystery about who the Orphans are, and who they work for. The action scenes which never seem to end. If you are a fan of the thriller genre (predictable though it may be), this is the book for you. But for me, I kept wanting more. I came in hoping the characters would be the best part of the book, but they all felt bland and stinted. There were so many basic questions about the rules of the world (especially Evan’s world) that made me frustrated reading it. And finally, the ending felt lack-luster.

So, let me break down my thoughts a bit in this section and then even further in my spoiler section. First, let’s take on the characters.

Evan is an assassin, and after watching Hurwitz’s interview, I went in expecting Evan to have more depth than your typical assassin character. And yet he didn’t that much. He jumped from woman to woman, his motivations were mostly hinged on survival, and his character didn’t show any progress in the book. His one and only redeemable quality was his friendship with Peter, the son of a single mother who lived several floors below Evan’s safe house. It was hilarious to see the intelligent little boy fascinated by his mysterious neighbor, and the gentleness and awkwardness Evan bore towards his little friend. But honestly, that was the only redeemable quality in Evan. Even his care for some of the people he helped seemed typical for anyone who isn’t a sociopath.

I won’t go through all the characters, but most of them felt like they were only there to serve a role, instead of actually be a character. I’ll get more into this in my spoiler review, but the antagonists felt like cookie-cutter villains instead of nuanced characters. The only two notable exceptions to the bland characters are Mia and Katrin. Mia is Peter’s mom, and an attorney, who befriends Evan and has a slight romance with him. We see a little bit about her in the beginning, and I wanted to learn more about her character, but later on she becomes merely some girl with a crush on Evan, instead of being more understandable. Similarly, Katrin was a woman Evan was trying to help, who at first was interesting and then became merely a twist in the plot.

Now, to understand a bit more about Evan and his world, I’m going to have to examine some of the later sections of the book, so…

Spoiler Alert!

As the synopsis mentions, Evan was trained as an assassin for the government. We don’t learn much about the program, but since Evan himself doesn’t know anything about who runs it or how powerful it is in the American government (which we may learn in later books), I can forgive this lapse of information. What I cannot forgive is how perfect Evan is.

First, he’s super wealthy. But how? He is on the run and the only jobs he takes (mostly killing corrupt people like an assassin Robin Hood) he doesn’t charge for. So how can he afford to have a fancy penthouse apartment, or buy all the best guns and security? Where does he get the money, since he doesn’t work for the government anymore? Is he just living off money already given to him when he was an Orphan? If so, wouldn’t they be able to trace the money?

That brings me to my second complaint. He is going up against this dangerous organization, which actually trained him. Thus, they should be able to analyze his every move. And yet they haven’t caught him yet. If he had run away to South America or some place in the world where the government would have trouble tracing him, than I can understand how they wouldn’t have found him yet. But I seriously could not buy how good he was and how useless the people chasing him were.

This brings us to the ending. So the main villain who is chasing Evan is Orphan O (also know as Orphan Zero), who is determined to kill him. In the end, Evan tracks him down and kills him. But the ending fight seemed extremely boring. Orphan O is supposed to be just as good as Evan, and yet Evan beat him easily. It’s ridiculous that the villains, who we don’t even learn much about anyway, seem to be made stupider so that Evan becomes cooler.

Speaking of Orphan O, whose real name was Slatcher. We don’t learn that much about him. He is simply a tool of the bigger force trying to take Evan down, which does not make him a compelling villain.

Conclusion

Okay, rant over.

In the end, I wanted to like this book, and if I could separate the over-all story from the individual action scenes, I would have liked it more. Because there are definitely some great fight scenes and the pacing is constantly intense. But the plot and characters just fell apart for me.

Maybe I’m being too critical on this book. After all, most thrillers put more emphasis on action and less on characters/over-all plot. But I still expect a good balance of all aspects of a book, no matter the genre. And it surprised me how this book seems universally liked by every reviewer I read, whereas I wasn’t a fan.

Have you read this book? Do you read thrillers? What do you think of the genre? Let me know your thoughts down in the comments, follow my blog for more musings and, as always,

Best wishes in your life full of adventures,

Madame Writer

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Orphan X by Greg Andrew Hurwitz

  1. I’ve never read any thrillers yet. But your review reminds me of my feelings about some superhero movies I’ve watched. Like you said in this review, I feel the characters, especially the villains, are bland. And the plot is not compelling to me, though fight scenes are impeccable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! I love when villains are just as interesting as the protagonist. I have the same issue with superhero movies as well, which are almost entirely based on fight scenes and action instead of on character and plot.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, a compelling villain is definitely the hightlight of a movie, and sometimes he/She even wins over the audience more than the protagonist! I remember when I watched Naruto, the first villain I love is called Shiro. I don’t know if I memorize his/her name right. Anyway, his/her name means white, and until now I still don’t figure out the villain’s gender…

        Liked by 1 person

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