“The Forbidden Orchid” by Sharon Biggs Waller (2016)
Genre: Historical, Fiction, YA
Page Length: 392 pages (hardcover edition)
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters living in a small English market town in 1861. The girls barely know their father, a plant hunter usually off adventuring through China. Then disaster strikes: Mr. Buchanan reneges on his contract to collect an extremely rare and valuable orchid. He will be thrown into debtors’ prison while his daughters are sent to the orphanage and the workhouse.
Elodie can’t stand by and see her family destroyed, so she persuades her father to return to China once more to try to hunt down the flower—only this time, despite everything she knows about her place in society, Elodie goes with him. She 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 now, even if she can find the orchid, how can she ever go back to being the staid, responsible Elodie that everybody needs? (description from Goodreads)
The Forbidden Orchid is a historical fiction set in the Victorian era of England. Our main character is Elodie, who is the eldest daughter out of eight siblings. She has the most responsibilities in the household and ends up taking care of her sisters when her mother falls ill. Elodie’s father is a plant hunter and is caught up with some investors in China after searching for a converted plant. He can’t hold up his part of the deal and that leads to trouble for the entire family. In order to keep her family safe from henchmen who seek to repossess their house, she must disguise herself as a boy in order to infiltrate a ship to China to warn her father of the dangers back at home.
Elodie has the traits of a typical YA heroine: kindhearted, intelligent, and clever. She’s also very dedicated to her family and is her father’s favorite since shares a love for plants and flowers rather than the hobbies of lady of her statue (in that era). Though she is a likable protagonist, her naiveté is a bit frustrating at times. Plus her tendency to “shoot off” at the mouth gets in her into situations which she could have easily avoided.
As for the plot/writing, the first section of the book (out of three) moved a bit too slowly for my tastes. Though the story is set around China, I felt like Waller spent too much time setting up the story in England. Majority of the novel’s happenings are set in Elodie’s hometown and by the second part of the novel (when we finally get to China) the plot seems to rush the action of the story. I really wanted to savor the book, but everything feels a bit rushed and all of the climatic events seem to happen in a few chapters. On top of that the book ends a bit abruptly, and I felt like the story left me hanging.
Despite the negatives, the setting is intriguing and readers who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this book with its immersive environment. Though I had heard of plant hunters in that era I like how the concept worked itself into the story, but I still felt it was missing something to give it that extra spice!
All in all this book was fast-paced and enjoyable, but its main downfall is that the plot is too predictable and the book spends most of its time in England instead of China where the adventure is supposed to take place. The character development felt a bit rushed and I really wanted to learn about more about the secondary characters rather than the snippets that were provided for readers.
Though this book wasn’t as good as I thought it would be, I’d still like to give the author’s debut novel, A Mad ,Wicked Folly, a try.