📚 Series Review: Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz


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Forward by Casey of Audiobook Empire

When Jess asked me to write a forward for her review of this series, I wasn't really surprised. However, there was one question I did have to ponder. What exactly do you write in a forward to a book review? After thinking about it for a little while, I determined that the best thing to do was to simply explain how it is that she came to listen to this series in the first place.

One night as we were texting about this and that, she asked me if I had any recommendations for her. She was looking for a character driven series. I did not answer her immediately though something did come immediately to mind. A few days later, I told her I had an idea but I wanted to discuss it over the phone. This was because despite her insistence that I know her well enough to have a good idea of what she might like, I still had my doubts. I thought that if she just read the publisher's summary for the first book that she would think I was crazy and move on to something else. But I thought if I gave her some background, nothing in the way of spoilers but something to explain the reason for my recommendation that it would carry more weight.

Of course, we don't talk on the phone very often and I certainly wasn't going to deliver my explanation over text. But eventually we did have that conversation and I sold her on the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz. It turned out, much to my surprise, that I didn't have to sell it all that hard. She said that my mere recommendation was enough. So will my mere recommendation be enough in the future? That is what you will find out in the rest of this review.

Orphan X

Book 1 Review

Ohhh, buddy! I felt like I needed to catch my breath after hearing Orphan X. It was hands-down the best audiobook I've heard in a while. The funny thing is that it's probably not something I would have been drawn to on my own, if it hadn't been recommended it to me by a trusted friend.

I sped through this book in two days and it simultaneously felt longer and shorter than that. Orphan X was like a roller coaster ride that only goes up. There was no respite from the adrenaline pumping action and paranoia inducing twists until the end of the book. But this wasn't your run-of-the-mill action thriller. From the start, I knew there was something more to Orphan X.

My favorite thing about this book is that Evan Smoak (a.k.a. Orphan X) isn't just a government trained assassin. In fact, by the time we meet Evan Smoak, his days of running secret op missions are done. Those are all in his past and now he lives a life of vigilante justice, sort of like Batman. Evan uses the skills he learned from the Orphan program to help those in need. That's what makes the orphan X series unique. He's a spy, but he's not running spy missions. He's doing something better.

Other thing that made this book stand out to me was Gregg Hurwitz. His writing was superb, beyond what is usually found in this type of book. Hurwitz understands how to tell a story, better than most. I became so immersed in the details that I felt like I was in Evan's loft with him. The vivid descriptions of his security measures were both stimulating and comforting, if that's even possible. Orphan X was so intelligently written that every detail was by design.

Evan is my favorite protagonist right now. He's smart, resourceful, badass, and... Ahhh! I don't even know how to explain him. He's just so pure and good. His interactions with Peter, a child who lives in his building, were absolute gold. They provided a much-needed contrast to Evan's more lethal interactions with the bad guys in the book.

It would have been so easy for Evan to have been a one dimensional character. So many of the protagonists of spy thrillers are one dimensional. They are killing machines and that's all. It's all about the mission. But Hurwitz makes a point of repeatedly talking about and showcasing Evan's humanity. He is more than his job. He's a guy trying to balance what he does with what's right. We see the roots of this internal conflict in flashbacks to his childhood, before and after entering the Orphan program. Those briefs flashes give a sense of not only where he came from, but who he is because of it and how it impacts him currently. This same internal conflict pops up again in his relationship with Mia and Peter, a mother son do well living in his condo building. These interactions show us that Evan has never really learned how to effectively balance this juxtaposition and it leaves us (and him) wondering if it can even be balanced at all.

That sort of ambiguity reminds me of the way George RR Martin writes his characters. They are neither good nor bad, or rather, they are sometimes good and bad. There aren't always clear answers to the questions posed by the writing, sometimes There are no answers at all. In this way, the writing is reflective of reality. This type of writing holds up a mirror to the reader and encourages introspection.

The Nowhere Man

Book 2 Review

As much as I loved the first installment of the series, the second installment fell victim to the sophomore slump. It wasn't terrible, by any stretch of the imagination. If it hadn't followed such a stellar debut, I probably would have liked it a lot more.

I listened to The Nowhere Man immediately after finishing Orphan X, so the two sort of flowed into one. This unintentional uniformity emphasized to the contrast between the two installments. The first major difference is the setting. Orphan X takes place mostly in California, but Evan moves around within it a lot. In The Nowhere Man, Evan is captured and imprisoned fairly soon into the start of the book. After that, the rest of the book takes place while he is in captivity.

To be honest, that was the main downer for me in this installment. Who would want to watch a movie where Batman is imprisoned the whole time? No. You want to see him out doing his thing. I don't have a problem with him Evan being captured, per se. It was a nice change of pace, for a while. The problem was that his imprisonment lasted too long. It wasn't just something that happened to him in the story, it was the story. It was intriguing at first, but it got old really quickly.

This installment introduced some new POV characters and did a great job of setting up a conflict that would arc throughout the next two installments. Hurwitz pulls a bait and switch with his villains. The main antagonist in this installment isn't the real threat. Instead, it's the one lurking in the background that should be focused on. Evan knows this, but still has to deal with what's right in front of him first.

What I'm describing here is the definition of a "bridge book". There's an episodic plot happening, but the more important plot is being set up for the next few books. Because of that, this installment isn't really something you can skip. If you did, you would miss a lot of background information regarding the Orphan program, as well as the development of the next "big baddie".


Book 3 Review

Other than the first installment, Hellbent was my favorite book in the series. I was skeptical going into it because the previous installment was a bit of a letdown. But Hurwitz bounced back, all thanks to the inclusion of a new character named Joey. It's not surprising that Joey's introduction was such a hit with me, given how much I loved Evans relationship with Peter, a young boy and his condo complex.

Joey is a teenage girl Evan takes under his wing. He becomes a father figure to her, albeit reluctantly. Their dynamic was pure gold, providing comic relief at times and pulling on my heartstrings at others. It was funny to see how Joey could beat Evan at his own game, using her tech skills. That drove the point home that they needed each other, each possessing skills that the other lacked. There's certainly a generational lesson to be learned there.

There was something so heartwarming about Evan becoming a reluctant parent. He's only ever had one family member and has spent his life trying not to get close to anyone, and then here comes this teenage girl. I'm sure raising a teenager is difficult enough, without all of Evan's professional oddities to consider.

Joey was a fantastic character. She was written exceedingly well. Like an adult, but you know, younger. Which is exactly what teenagers are. She wasn't whiny or petulant. She certainly wasn't bratty. I've thrown a lot of complaints at teenage characters before, but none of them could stick to Joey. I became attached to her really quickly, almost as quickly as I became attached to Evan in the first book. Hurwitz develops his characters beautifully.

Out of the Dark

Book 4 Review

I was fortunate enough to have begun listening to this series only a few months after the fourth installment was released and while I still had momentum from binging the first three books. Out of the Dark felt like the ending of a series, even though I'm told there will be more installments to come. If it wasn't the end of the series, I can only assume that Out of the Dark was the closing of a major plot arc.

Out of the Dark provides us with satisfying closure. If it was the end of the series, it would be a great final installment. Don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled that Hurwitz is continuing this series and I can't wait for more Evan Smoak, but I have to wonder what's next. This installment concluded the major conspiracy storyline that was set into motion several books ago. With that concluded, what will Evan do now? Will there be fallout from the major events of this installment? Or will Hurwitz pick at one of the loose threads from The Nowhere Man?

With the main character still very much in play, there are plenty of options for further installments. I would like to see Evan go back to the beginning and continue his vigilante justice, on a smaller scale. Out of the Dark is the culmination of three books worth of events and it took place on a grand/national stage (in D.C.). The change of pace and setting was nice, but I'd like to see Evan back in his loft, helping everyday people.

Out of the Dark had a theme of government conspiracy and that's not really my jam, just because I've already read so much like it. This installment actually seemed more like a generic spy thriller, which is exactly what I didn't want. It was the complete opposite of the first book. Out of the Dark turned Evan Smoak into Jack Reacher type character and took away a lot of what I loved about him in the previous installments. I mean, he was still very much himself in the way that he did things, but it was almost like he was pretending to be a Jack Reacher type. He was doing Jack Reacher things in an Evan Smoak away, if that makes sense.

This is definitely a series worth returning to, possibly even pre-ordering. It has so much potential that I could see it going on for a very long time. I definitely recommend it to anyone interested in "spy thrillers", but tired of the same old same. Evan Smoak is a breath of fresh air and Hurwitz's writing is unbeatable!

Buy A Bullet & The Intern

The Novellas

This series seems to have its ups and downs, with the downs not being super low, mind you. But I definitely have clear cut favorites, even among the novellas. Despite the fact that I accidentally read them out of order (I'm so ashamed), Buy A Bullet was so much better than The Intern.

If I'm being honest, you can probably skip The Intern all together. I'm not sure what, if anything was gained from it. Granted, novellas don't normally have a huge impact on the overall story of the main installments, but The Intern actually felt like a waste of time. Thank goodness it wasn't very long and it only cost a little over a dollar (definitely not worth a credit). However, I would be willing to eat these words if one or more of the seemingly random characters introduced in it were to show up in the main series.

On the other hand, Buy A Bullet fleshed out the main character enough to feel like it was actually serving a purpose. It tells the story of Evan's first vigilante mission, almost like an origin story. Especially if you think of his life in two parts, before his "pro bono work" and after. Buy A Bullet is the crossroads between those two paths of his life. It was his turning point, so to speak. The events that transpired in Buy A Bullet directed Evan down the path he is on when we first meet him in Orphan X. That's what made it so interesting to me and well worth the $1.87 I paid for it.

So if you're choosing between the two novellas, definitely go with Buy A Bullet.

🎙Narration Review

Scott Brick

I've heard Scott Brick narrate before, but never like this! I actually checked (more than once) to confirm that he was the same Scott Brick I heard narrate a World of Warcraft book last year. He was, and I'm not saying the previous performance was bad, by any means. But this just goes to show what a symbiotic experience audiobook listening is, because this character and this writing completely transformed my perception of Scott Brick's narration.

Scott Brick will forever be Evan Smoak to me. He epitomizes Evan Smoak, in my mind. While doing my digging, I actually ran across a photo of Scott Brick and had a hard time reconciling his image with the voice coming out of my speakers. I have a clear image of Evan Smoak in my mind (based on Hurwitz's writing) and I refused to believe that I was hearing anyone other than Evan Smoak speak to me. Yeah, I know that sounds weird, but I'm hoping hard-core audio listeners will at least semi-understand what I'm saying!

Not only did Brick do a phenomenal job voicing Evan, but he provided a stellar overall listening experience as well. I binged all four books successively and still could not get enough of Brick's voice. I especially love the way he voiced Peter, who is a child, but is described as having a raspy voice. Not having been around a lot of children personally, I was confused by this description, but Brick still managed to pull it off.

I can't wait to hear him narrate the next installment in the series (he better be back as the narrator, so help me…). In the meantime, I plan on exploring more of his work to tide me over until then.

Let me know what you think!

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