The Forbidden Orchid
By: Sharon Biggs Waller
Release Date: March 8th 2016
Format: Print ARC
A copy of this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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?
This was the first book I’ve read by Sharon Biggs Waller and I went in with high expectations because of all the amazing things I’d heard about this author’s prior book, A Mad, Wicked Folly. Overall, I found this book to be an entertaining read and enjoyed the storyline and adventure. I did have some issues with the characters but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, let’s talk about the things I did enjoy. The setting was lush and I felt the descriptions lent themselves to very clear imagery and helped progress the story for me. The novel was told in first person from the main character, Elodie’s, point of view. I really enjoyed that the novel’s progress was split into three sections, one in England, aboard a tea clipper and then the final, in China. My favorite section was the shortest, aboard the tea clipper. I felt that Waller did an exceptional job describing the boat and how it would feel to be Elodie traveling across the ocean for the first time.
Where I had issues with this book was in the character representations. I felt like they were all caricatures of themselves. It’s hard to explain but I’ll try…some of the characters felt like they played on a stereotype rather than on an in depth character. The two most obvious to me were Deacon Wainwright and Ching Lan. Wainwright was described and acted so much like Mr. Collins (of Pride and Prejudice) to me. He was bumbling, homely and sexually repressed. He seemed so typical of a clergyman it stood out to me. It wasn’t enough to really deter from the book but it was something I noticed.
As the story moved to China I noticed other characters feeling more stereotypical than well developed. I have zero knowledge of this time period or culture but certain things (language mostly) sort of felt…I don’t know, cliché? It’s hard to put my finger on it but it was bothersome for me personally. It left me feeling like more could have been done to bring something deeper to Ching Lan’s character rather than her exotic description, concubine plight or her expressions of ‘wah’ and ‘ai yah’ I felt there was an opportunity missed to create a well developed, diverse character.
My favorite character was Elodie’s father. I felt he was possibly the most interesting character of them all and I enjoyed that he had elements that made him not the greatest man or father. Elodie herself was a decent main character though at times her character did aggravate me with her naiveté. There are several examples of her making decisions I found to be incredibly frustrating such as trusting someone when she had every reason not to and wearing completely inappropriate clothing for where she was.
Those wondering about the romance- there was one (no triangle) and it was done fairly well. I was able to feel the character’s chemistry and I felt it was believable. I think most readers will enjoy the relationship and how it develops.
Though The Forbidden Orchid had some strengths-certain weaknesses stood out so strongly I had trouble looking past them. I wished that the author would have taken the opportunity to create a better diverse character and also give her main character some worldly sense. I wonder if you read this book yet did these things trouble you? Am I alone?