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?
This book was so close to being a perfect read, save for some pacing issues.
It explores a portion of history that I’m not that familiar with. Oh, I am aware enough of Victorian Britain, but I haven’t read that much about exploration in this era. Especially in China.
Or for that matter I haven’t really read anything about horticulture.
That in it’s own made the read interesting enough. But it really wasn’t the plot that kept me engaged. Rather, it was the fact that this book had a lot of feminist undertones which had me squealing,
Yes, I said feminism.
There there are sadly no suffragettes and bra burning in this story, there are some under and overtones of feminism on a micro level.
Which is why I love this book so much, because it focused on how an individual is limited by her time period in her decisions.
Waller really does a great job with Elodie. The character is complex and realistic. In fact, the characterization of the main character is probably one of my favorite parts of this book. Elodie faces many challenges that any woman during this period would face. However, she faces them in a way that is not overt or heavy handed. While there is a romance in this book, it is not the primary focus of the novel. But I did ship the ship, even though it played a minor side role to the overall plot.
And maybe that’s why I liked The Forbidden Orchid as much as I did. While I am a fan of romance, sometimes I feel like it overwhelms a story. Here, it didn’t. It was just enough romance to have you ship the ship but not overwhelm the character or the plot.
As far as plots go, this book doesn’t really have the most exciting or nail biting plot. It really is a character study. And that is totally okay. There is just enough hints of adventure where it isn’t boring or anything. The thing is, I can see how the lack of a plot WOULD bother someone else.
In addition to the lack of a plot, the pacing in this book is a bit messed up. There was waaay too much time spent in England at the beginning of the novel, and the middle part on the ship and the part in China felt a little short changed which is a shame because those were the better parts of this book.
Would I recommend this book: absolutely. But it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. If you like historical fiction that focuses on aspects in the period that are often ignored I recommend this one. However, it doesn’t have much in terms of a plot, but the characterization and the history it covers makes up for it.
Overall Rating: An A-.