Review: The Forbidden Orchid by Sharon Biggs Waller

Friday, February 26, 2016

Publisher: Viking
Publication Date: March 8th, 2016
Rating: 4 Stars
Source: eARC from Netgalley
Pages: 432

Summary (from Goodreads):

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 starts off at an almost achingly slow pace. It introduces Elodie, our main character, and her family. It sets the scene for what it's like to be an essentially man-less family in the 1860's. 

Elodie's father is a traveling plant hunter. He frequently visits China looking for new and rare plants to bring back to England. He visits home once a year and then leaves again for China, the search for interesting plants, endless.

Elodie is the oldest of 8 daughters who are all named after flowers. It's her job, as the oldest, to look after all the children as well as her mother when she falls ill after giving birth to the latest daughter. She does her best to look after everyone, but it's hard because everyone gossips about the family and there are men around every corner putting their noses in where they don't belong and pretty much making things more difficult for the family. They don't take kindly to Elodie's questions and general attitude about the way things are.

The beginning of this book pretty much sets all of that up. Then things start to pick up! Things haven't gone well for Elodie's father in China on his most recent trip and while he is back in England, he refuses to return home to his family. When his angry employer sends men to their house to appraise their things as a potential payment for a failed shipment of Queen's Fancy orchids, Elodie takes matters into her own hands and goes to her father in Kew to tell him the news. He eventually realizes that he must go back to China to collect the orchids to save his family.

But Elodie knows that he's in no state to travel alone. She fears he won't make it back alive and he won't allow her to travel with him. So she disguises herself as a boy and stows away on the Osprey, the tea clipper that her father secured passage to China on.

And that is when things start to pick up. China is fully of danger and adventure, which Elodie has been yearning for. And she will definitely get it!

Elodie is a great main character. She is dependable and caring. She puts the needs of others before her own, but just longs for something more. She has always been her father's eyes and ears at home while he is away, generally being the only person in the household that isn't always hurt by him. She kind of puts him up on a pedestal, thinking he can do no wrong. When she stows away on the Osprey, there is kind of a strain put on their relationship, but over the course of the book, their relationship starts to change and it's a good change and was nice to see! 

There is a romance in this book that is both wonderful and frustrating. It is wonderful because Alex Balashov, second mate of the Osprey, is great. He's sweet, he's kind, he's understanding. He has his hidden demons, but overall, I think he's definitely my new #2 fictional love. The romance is frustrating because it develops sooo slowly! I wanted Elodie to get over herself and allow herself to have feelings for him! I wanted to bang their heads together and tell them to just be cute already!

Besides the beginning of this book being slow, the rest of it is fairly slow as well. But the last 2/3 of the book is considerably more interesting than the first third. Things start to pick up a little bit aboard the ship and definitely pick up in China! Considering that most of this book is just one big journey and travel was a lot slower in the 1860's, the story moves slowly. But overall, I found the interesting parts to outweigh the slow factor.

Through this standalone historical novel, I learned a lot about the time period! I found the tea clippers and the plant hunters and the opium wars to be very interesting! I love historical novels. I love learning about history in a way that doesn't make me wanna fall asleep and drool all over my desk.

If I had to complain about anything besides the pacing, I would say I was a bit disappointed by a lack of conflict with the villain. I was expecting more there. Maybe I'm not disappointed, more like surprised. I was just expecting there to be more in that department.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I loved learning about the time period. I loved the plant descriptions. I loved Alex Balashov. If you're into slower paced historical novels with a super adorable love interest, you might just love this book!


  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this book! I don't think you know about the conflicts -- I had been excited to read it as well, until some serious crap hit the fan and the author seriously insulted and harassed one of my closest blogger friends. It's not my story to tell but I cannot and will not read this book/support the author now. -____- I'll give away my ARC and hardcover! Hopefully someone ignorant to what happened (ignorance is bliss, right?). Very great review, Cyra, I'm glad you liked it!

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    1. Ahhhh man. That's really disappointing! I had never heard about anything like that. I guess I'm glad that I didn't though so I could enjoy the book. But that's really unfortunate because this book is pretty good! But I guess if you get rid of your ARC and hardcover, you'll have that much more room for your epic haul this week! ;)


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