(Website, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads)Published by Penguin on March 8th 2016
Genres: Historical, Young Adult
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls' father is a plant hunter, usually off adventuring through the jungles of China.
Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan fails to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid, meaning that he will be thrown into debtors' prison and the girls will be sent to the orphanage or the poorhouse. Elodie's father has one last chance to return to China, find the orchid, and save the family—and this time, thanks to an unforeseen twist of fate, Elodie is going with him. Elodie has never before left her village, but what starts as fear turns to wonder as she adapts to seafaring life aboard the tea clipper The Osprey, and later to the new sights, dangers, and romance of China.
But even if she can find the orchid, how can she find herself now that staid, responsible Elodie has seen how much the world has to offer?
I love Historical Fiction and when I read the summary of The Forbidden Orchid, I was immediately interested. I loved A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller so there was no question in my mind that I was going to read this book. Also, I kind of love that cover!
The story spends a good amount of time setting up the story. Elodie is the oldest daughter of a plant hunter and is growing up in a small English town in the 1860’s. As you might guess, the era doesn’t really allow girls a lot of freedom and Elodie has resigned herself to the fact that being the eldest, she will have to be the one to help her mother with the younger children because her father is gone almost all the time. As someone who is free to do what I want, it is always interesting to me to read stories like this as the expectations and even the sensibilities toward women during this time period made me cringe at times.
When Elodie’s father comes home from his last trip and refuses to join the family at the house, things start to go downhill for the family. Apparently their father didn’t meet the terms of his last contract and because of this, the family is told they may have to go to the work house to pay off his debt. When Elodie goes to her father, she finds him to be a very broken version of the man she knew from his last visit. She doesn’t know exactly what happened but when she tells her father about their problems, he resigns himself to the fact that he will have to go back to China for the flowers. While her father is making arrangements down at the docks, Elodie meets Alex and she is immediately drawn to him and his dog. When Elodie realizes just how much danger this trip is for her father and also what failure could mean for them, she boards the ship dressed as a boy and the adventure begins.
I love a book that has solid characters and I thought that Waller did a good job of building out who these characters were as well as the relationships between them. I thought the relationship between Elodie and Alex was done well and while there were definitely times where I just wanted them to get over their insecurities with each other, I really did like them together. I do wish we had seen a bit more of the building of their relationship aboard the ship – those late night conversations would have revealed a bit more about who they are together and outside of being forced together, why they wanted to be together.
I also liked seeing the change in the relationship Elodie has with her father. As their roles reverse in finding the flowers, Elodie begins to realize what she wants. She just needs to stand up for herself and fight for it. I also thought the secondary characters added quite a bit to the story. Ching Lan grew on me after a while but I have to admit, I found her somewhat annoying at first.
Waller definitely did her research around China and the Opium War and captured what I imagine the feelings toward outsiders would be. I found it fascinating as this isn’t a topic I normally pick up or even know anything about. If you liked Waller’s other book I think you might enjoy this one as well. I look forward to more from her as an author as she does a wonderful job of putting the reader into the time frame and includes enough history, action, and romance to interest anyone.
Thank you to the publisher for the review copy!
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1 winner will receive signed finished copies of THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID, A MAD WICKED FOLLY & swag, US Only.