Review: Project Ordell by Susanna Hays

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.

Ordell is a sentient automaton living in Blackwick with his father and creator, Octavio, living peacefully and enjoys helping his father build other automatons to be sold as workers. Or so he believes.

One day he comes home from running his errands and finds his father arguing with a man who gives him the creeps. A week later he is betrayed by Octavio, and has been sold as a pleasure slave to that man.

Running away, he finds himself at Winifred’s house, whom he discovers is his real creator, and she has another automaton locked in her basement to keep him safe. She sends Ordell, and the other automaton, Elias to Linesse, where automatons are free to live as they please thanks an underground revolution that has been fighting for automaton rights for decades.

But the journey is long, and Ratcliffe, the man who bought him, will not give him up without a fight.

This story was loooooooooong. I feel exhausted just thinking about it now. There was so much nothing going on that it took me 8 weeks to read. I just couldn’t get into it. It may work for others, but it did not work for me.

Ordell has only been ‘alive’ for ten years, and while I won’t say he has the maturity of a ten year old, because that is just creepy, he has a naivety that borders on child-like. He is innocent, modest, and easily scandalised. His logic is sound, if he lived in a bubble, which he appeared to, until he was sold. His outrage and sensitivity was irritating and the dialogue didn’t flow well for me.

Elias was a former pleasure slave whom was re-programmed to protect Ordell. His protective streak was not sexy. It was overbearing and silly. There were holes in the story on how he knew what to do and where to go, for a robot whom lived in a basement for however long, and before that was a mindless sex-doll, he sure does know a lot about the outside world. Some of that was explained by programming, but the rest was not.

The story had an innocence to it that contradicted the darker elements of sexual slavery, and kidnapping. It was very whimsical and had a flutterby flow to it. The undercurrent of darkness didn’t really come through in this style of writing, and that was a shame, because it would have given the story the edge that it needed.

A lot of the dialogue was the same, just in a different location. Obviously, it wasn’t exactly the same, but it sure felt like one prolonged dialogue. Also, a lot of meaningless detail that did not progress the story. The only exciting part for me was the mechanical Kraken they encountered on their journey. I wish that scene had been longer.

The romance between Ordell and Elias was odd. It was very fluffy, and I felt like a robot reading about it. I didn’t feel the connection between them at all. I wanted to feel the heat, but it felt like they were just doing it because it was expected. They are supposed to have emotional and physical reactions just like humans.. You know, sentient, but it did not come across that way at all.

This was a really interesting concept, set in a sort of mashup between cyberpunk and gas light, that I really wanted to love. Unfortunately I feel like I will remember this story for all the wrong reasons. Tighter writing of the plot, and chopping about 25% of the dialogue/descriptions/action would greatly improve the flow of this story.

I really can’t recommend this to anyone, but if people want to take a chance, and enjoy cyberpunk/gas light/historical sci-fi then this might be something to try.

Dreamspinner Press

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