I was surprised to learn that a new Orphan X novel was on its way given that the eighth novel — 2023’s The Last Orphan — ended on a rather definitive note, with former assassin Evan Smoak arriving at a major crossroads in his life. (That, and it was literally titled The Last Orphan.) And now that I’ve read Lone Wolf, I find myself wishing that The Last Orphan had, indeed, been the final Orphan X title.
At their best, Gregg Hurwitz’s novels are thoroughly engaging thrillers that find Smoak employing his considerable skills to survive all kinds of crazy, high stakes situations in order to help desperate people in need and confront his bloody past. (In the case of Lone Wolf, a seemingly silly mission to find a lost dog quickly goes sideways, sending Smoak on a collision course with another, equally deadly assassin and a Silicon Valley nightmare.) The last few Orphan X novels have really put him through the wringer, though, as he tries to reclaim his humanity amidst his deadly activities and the trauma of his youth.
I appreciate Hurwitz’s desire to invest Smoak with depth and nuance, to write him as something more conflicted than just a ruthless, emotionless killer. That was, in fact, the very quality that drew me to the series in the first place. But the last few novels don’t feel as well-balanced as their predecessors did. Lone Wolf suffers from the same flaws as The Last Orphan. Specifically, long, overwrought passages during which Smoak philosophizes on existence, especially when confronted by the rise of AI and related technologies, and agonizes over his place in the world, his family past, growing older, and the politics of his HOA. (No, really.)
Ironically, the more humanity Smoak reclaims, the less interesting he becomes as a character. Sometimes, you really do just want to read about a deadly super-assassin dispatching terrible people, be they human traffickers or amoral tech CEOs (for what it’s worth, Hurwitz really seems to have it out for the latter), without having to wade through so much psychological baggage.
Lone Wolf ends with a revelation that totally sets up a tenth Orphan X novel, which I’ll probably read because I’m so invested in the series. But after the turns taken by The Last Orphan and now Lone Wolf, I’m no longer expecting as much as I once did. (Thanks to NetGalley for the advance review copy.)