The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller
Published by Viking on March 8th 2016
Genres: young adult, historical
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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?
The Forbidden Orchid is an excellent, excellent book. It was so close to perfect. I LOVED Elodie, the story, the writing, the research, and pretty much everything about it.
What kept this from being a perfect book for me was a lack of an emotional connection to the characters. AGAIN. I am beginning to believe it’s me. This is something that has been happening to me a lot lately, so I don’t think it’s anything that the author did. I mean, the romance was super cute, but I wasn’t feeling the chemistry. That said, this is the ONLY part that didn’t work for me.
The subject matter was excellent–fascinating, really, and it was incredibly well-researched. The story arc was perfectly executed, and the book even surprised me a little at the end. I had it all planned in my mind how it was going to end, and I was entirely wrong. I love when this happens! And I loved that this book did something different, rather than end it in a tropey, cliched way.
The book is divided into three parts: England, At Sea, China. And I wish there was less time spent in England and more time spent in China, because the China parts were fascinating. I now have an interest in a time period in history that I really didn’t know much about before. Tea clippers? I didn’t even know those existed. I knew a little about the Opium Wars but I didn’t know how disastrous it actually got. Plant hunters? I didn’t know those existed either. These are my favorite kind of books–the ones that you learn things from.
Elodie was a lovely, flawed heroine. Strong but mouthy. Brave but a bit reckless. Utterly headstrong in a time where it was frowned upon for women to be so. And yet, it never stopped her. Oh man, parts of this book made me angry with the sexism. I HATE how women were treated. If I had been alive back then, I’m not sure I would have made it. I know I would have been diagnosed with hysteria and probably thrown in an asylum. Can you imagine?’
The scenes aboard The Osprey were my favorites, I think. The entire book was incredibly well done, but I feel the middle section where Elodie is at sea were perhaps the most vivid. I clearly need to read more books about adventuring and pirates because I loved that part.
I’ve gotta say, I was nearly blown away by this author’s writing. It was beautiful and lively, and I truly felt like I was there with the characters. I’m not a huge fan of most historical novels. I pick and choose what I read, and I almost always am drawn in by the Asian settings. I am so glad I picked this one up, even though I wish there had been more China in it. I still really appreciated this novel. There’s quite a bit of exposition in the beginning, and I thought that might be a problem for me, but actually, it was quite the opposite. I think I just loved Elodie (and the promise of what was to come) so much, that I was willing to go along for the ride.
I really, really adored this book. I know when the end of the year rolls around and I am picking my favorites, this one is going to stick out bigtime. It’s memorable, it’s exciting, and it really just pulls you into the story as if you are Elodie and she is you. I can’t recommend it enough.
Sharon Biggs Waller grew up around artists and developed a passion for Edwardian history and the Pre-Raphaelites when she moved to England in 2000. She did extensive research on the British suffragettes for her novel, A MAD, WICKED FOLLY when she wasn’t working as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. She also writes non-fiction books about horses under her maiden name, Sharon Biggs. She is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a 10-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark. Visit her at www.sharonbiggswaller.com.
1 winner will receive signed finished copies of THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID, A MAD WICKED FOLLY & swag, US Only.