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?
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
I’d never left Kent in the whole of my life. Edencroft was my life and always would be. I would have loved nothing more than to see Kew for myself. Dash it, I wanted to go farther than Kew. I wanted to feel a real rainforest’s mist on my face and smell the jackfruit trees in their native land and not in a glasshouse, no matter how marvelously built.
“I long to go with you, Papa,” I blurted out.
“Oh, my dear,” Papa said, his voice wistful. “If you were a boy, I’d take you with me directly you asked.” He smiled. “The things I would show you! But alas, such adventures are not for you. Besides, I need you here to look after Mamma and the girls. You are my eyes and ears whilst I’m away, and I depend on you to remain my steadfast and dependable Elodie.”
I felt ridiculous for showing Papa my heart and for making him voice what I loathed to hear: The only way I could make him proud was to remain home, locked like a fairy doll inside of a glass Wardian case, looking after the other fairy dolls. I looked down the road that led to the train station, unable to meet his eyes. “I know, Papa.”
“Please tell you mother . . .” He hesitated and glanced at her bedroom windows, where the drapes remained closed. “Never mind. Good-bye, my dear.” He tapped the roof of the carriage with his walking stick, and the driver clucked to his horses.
“Good-bye, Papa.” I stood on the gravel drive and watched until the carriage had crested the hill and disappeared down the other side.
I wouldn’t see or hear from my father again until April of 1861, when the bailiffs came to take our possessions away.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
THE FORBIDDEN ORCHID starts out somewhat slow, but you get a good sense of the setting, who Elodie is, and what her family is like. (When you have eight other sisters—or nine, I was a little unsure—it certainly makes sense that you’d be closest to one of them; in this case, Violetta.) I think the best part of the book is the setting. As with A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, Biggs Waller has meticulously researched her history, and that passion shows. I loved following along with Elodie as we see her in England, on board a ship, and then in China. Some of the best moments, the ones that felt the most real, were when Elodie was learning to let Alex take care of her. I thought he was a great character, too; he’s complex, but kind at the core, and you get a sense for why Elodie is drawn to him, especially compared to the other men she has known in England. In the beginning, I was as annoyed as Elodie by Ching Lan, so I didn’t quite believe it when Elodie forgave her. But I’m really glad Biggs Waller included her as a character, and I grew to really appreciate her: she’s someone who is very much a product of the culture she grew up in, yet her longing for something different feels real and believable. She was also a welcome contrast to, for example, the foot binding detail, which I feel is a super stereotypical point whenever anyone talks about China. (And yet, it is historically accurate.) And I was glad to see Elodie’s relationship with her father fleshed out, though I still wished for a bit more. Where the book worked least for me was the romance. I almost never really believed Elodie and Alex’s mutual insecurity regarding each other, because to me it seemed so obvious that they liked each other, and I just wanted them to spit that out. The romance also focuses more on physical attraction and pushing the characters physically together, faltering when it comes to the characters actually opening up and getting to know each other in a real way. Part of that may simply be because Biggs Waller was tackling a lot, with three different settings. While I felt more forgiving about the confusion when they were at sea, it continued when they landed in China, despite there being other conflicts there that could theoretically have drawn them together. Having read this, I’d be really curious to see the reverse story: a Chinese teenager in China at the time of the opium wars, as Europeans are visiting. It’s certainly a story that is less told. But, of course, that’s quite literally a different story. Still, this one was enjoyable, and if you found the historical detail and romantic chemistry of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY fun, I think you’ll like this one, too.