The adventures of a British girl in China, hunting for the orchid that will save her family.
Staid, responsible Elodie Buchanan is the eldest of ten sisters growing up in a small English market town in 1861. The girls barely know their father, a plant hunter usually off adventuring through China, more myth than man. 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. She comes to find that both the world and her place in it are so much bigger than she’d ever dreamed. But now, even if she can find the orchid, how can she ever go back to being the staid, responsible Elodie that everybody needs?
Seventeen-year-old Elodie's adventurousness and intellect outpace the constraints Victorian England places on women her age. The oldest daughter in a family of 10 women, Elodie takes on responsibility for everyone when her mother falls ill, and her perpetually absent father jeopardizes them all when he fails to retrieve a rare, expensive orchid for the man who finances his plant-hunting expeditions to China. Elodie risks everything to help her father return to China and pay off his debts by stowing away on a tea clipper with the help of a handsome young Russian named Alex. Once Elodie arrives in China, Waller (A Mad, Wicked Folly) creates a vivid portrait of the country's landscape and history and the restrictions women faced there, too through Elodie's observations and via her new friend, Ching Lan. The discordant relationship between England's fascination with China's many unfamiliar treasures and the Victorian desire to conquer is also front and center. Elodie and Ching Lan are feminists of their era, refusing to bend to the rules and limits placed before them. Ages 12 up.
Plant hunting can be dangerous!
The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller is a historical romance novel set in Edencroft, Kent, England (goes from 1859 through 1862). Elodie Buchanan is the eldest sister (boy died before she was born) at seventeen. Elodie has nine sisters. Their father, Reginald Buchanan, is a plant hunter and only returns once a year (to get mum pregnant again). He now considers himself a man of science (though he used to study theology). Their mother is a bishop’s daughter. She thought she was marrying a future priest (you have to feel sorry for her). Reginald does not understand girls and is distant with them. Instead of a dollhouse for the girls, he brought a Wardian case set up a fairy garden (only Elodie appreciated it) with delicate plants in it. The parents argue and Reginald is off again. This time he does not return home. Something happens to him in China, and he will not come home. Elodie finds out that Reginald reneged on a contract for a rare orchid to Erasmus Pringle. He either has to return to China for the orchid or pay the amount in the contract (which he does not have). Elodie talks her father into returning to China with her by his side (Reginald really does not wish to return). Her father nixes the idea of Elodie going with him. Elodie helps him get ready for the trip. They have to hurry because Reginald needs to find the orchid before a rival plant hunter. Whoever retrieves it first, gets the money (and then the father will still be in hot water—debtor’s prison). Elodie is sent home just before her father sets sail. An encounter at the train station has Elodie sneaking aboard the ship. Elodie is in for the adventure of a lifetime and she cannot wait!
The Forbidden Orchid is interesting, but I did find the novel a little slow (and predictable). I could have told you how this novel would end from the time Elodie stowed away on the ship. The descriptions of the orchids were just lovely. It was also interesting to find out more about the life of plant hunters. Nowadays, we just go to our local nursery to purchase flowers. I found the Victorian viewpoints on orchids to be ridiculous (I wanted to deck Deacon Wainwright, the pompous blowhard). I give The Forbidden Orchid 3.75 out of 5 stars. Would I read this book again? No. Did I enjoy it? Yes, and no. I just wanted something more (less predictability). Would I read another book by this author? Maybe (depends upon the subject matter)! I did enjoy the mystery of the missing orchid (someone stole it from Elodie’s Wardian case).
I received a complimentary copy of The Forbidden Orchid from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the book.