Book review: Welcome to Orphancorp, by Marlee Jane Ward

5 11 2017

Marlee Jane Ward is an Australian speculative fiction writer whose short stories and novellas have been shortlisted for several awards. She’s a winner of the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and the Seizure ‘Viva la Novella’ competition.

WelcomeToOrphancorp

Welcome to Orphancorp is the first novella in a trilogy following the travails of Miriiyanan Mahoney, an orphan just seven days away from Age Release the gulag-for-profit franchised servitude of Orphancorp. It’s a visceral, intimate portrayal of a bleak near-future that seems all too plausible.

Mirii is feisty, big-mouthed, and skilled with her hands: she earns credits from the ‘corp for her skills in repairing and repurposing electronics, and perks from her fellow inmates for her abilities as a tattoo artist. She knows the ropes at Orphancorp: she’s been transferred across the country, from House to House, for over a decade—because too long in any one spot could start to get comfortable, and the system is not designed for comfort—but when she arrives at Verity House with just a week to run, all she has to do to secure her release (and avoid transfer to Orphancorp’s brutal older brother, Prisoncorp) is to keep her nose clean. It shouldn’t be a difficult task; and yet, thanks to the troubled renegade Freya’s malevolence, Mirii’s quick-forged attraction to fellow inmate Vu, and the institutionalised bastardry visited on the children by Warden Kyle and by the ‘Aunts’ and ‘Uncles’ who are Verity House’s footsoldiers, it becomes a raw and bruising ordeal.

Ward’s characterisation is vivid, her orphans animated with flawed yet hopeful humanity and the Aunts and Uncles who serve, for the most part, as the villains of the piece are also shown to be victims, of a sort, within a system which is expressly designed not to produce winners. It’s an unsettling and effective piece within which the reader, much like Mirii herself, grabs at uncertain hope wherever it can be found.

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