If you’re a fan of Jack Reacher and other, similar novels, then Orphan X will rock your world, as it has with Warner Bros. Studios who are rumoured to be lining up Bradley Cooper to play the title character in a film adaptation.
In the first book of Gregg Hurwitz’ Orphan X series, Evan Smoak is removed from an orphanage as a boy and raised by a handler, Jack, to be an unstoppable killing machine. Trained in mixed martial arts, espionage, weaponry and mind-over-matter self-control, the black-ops “orphan” government program ensures deniability while allowing their assets to go anywhere in the world to do what is necessary with unlimited resources at their disposal.
Orphan X – Smoak – becomes one of their best.
When the program is disbanded, Smoak, goes underground and becomes known in whispers as The Nowhere Man, appearing when needed to help those who are desperate but deserving. He lives by the Ten Commandments that were handed down to him by Jack, the most important being that no innocent should die. His only condition for helping those he deems worthy is that they, one day, give his untraceable number to someone equally deserving of his help. Just one person, then nevermore.
The premise of Orphan X soon gives way to a cracker of a story, when Smoak finds himself a target for elimination while on a job. Faced off against the skills of other orphans in the now-defunct program, Smoak must play a deadly cat-and-mouse game against equally-skilled opponents.
Hurwitz dazzles with his research into mixed fight techniques and weaponry, adding strength and believability to his central protagonist. The action is breathtaking and the plot screams along at breakneck speed, only pausing here and there for reflection. Unfortunately, the memory scenes, harking back to Smoak’s time under the tutelage of Jack, are italicised, making entire chapters difficult to read. Lengthy prose in all-italics is a poor choice for readability, particularly for older readers, and there is never an acceptable excuse to have up to 16 consecutive pages of italicised font.
Typesetting issues aside, Orphan X is an edge-of-your-seat thriller and a welcome new entry into the action genre. The second novel, The Nowhere Man, was released in January 2017 (review coming soon!) with a further three books rumoured to complete the series. Here’s hoping that’s true.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 8
Distributed by: Penguin Australia
Release Date: November 2016
RRP: $19.99 paperback, $10.99 eBook