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The Forbidden Orchid Hardcover – March 8, 2016
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* "Elodie and Ching Lan are feminists of their era, refusing to bend to the rules and limits placed before them."—Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "A historical romance with a strong female protagonist, sure to find fans."—School Library Journal, starred review
"The characters are strong and full of life, and the plot combines the perfect amount of both adventure and romance. . . . This book is a must-have."—VOYA
"Similar in tone to Libba Bray’s A Great and Terrible Beauty (2003), this is a perfect read for timid teens who dream of adventure."—Booklist
"Well-researched and filled with adventure, romance, and lots of tension—this work of historical fiction has all the elements of an intriguing read."—Kirkus Reviews
A Junior Library Guild Selection
Nominated for the American Library Association's Best Fiction for Young Adults List
About the Author
Sharon Biggs Waller moved to England in 2000, where she worked as a riding instructor at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace and as a freelance magazine writer. These days she is a dressage rider and trainer and lives on a ten-acre sustainable farm in Northwest Indiana with her British husband, Mark. She is the author of three non-fiction books, as well as the YA novel A Mad, Wicked Folly.
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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?
I liked Elodie. She's a strong willed, opinionated girl who doesn't let her society's acceptations hold her back from doing what she feels is right. She's also intelligent and thinks things through before making a decisions. I admired how she weighed her options before taking action, especially during a time when it wasn't proper for a women to speak her mind, or do things she wasn't allowed to do. Elodie took matters into her own hands and did what she needed to do, in order to save her family. I greatly admired her for that. She described herself best on page 365, "I loved my family, but I wanted to take my place in the world. My father had named me after a wildflower, and I knew now that wildflowers could not thrive inside of greenhouses."
While it took awhile for me to really get into the story, I enjoyed the historical references, the historical settings of both England, and China, and sailing between two the countries. Waller does a wonderful job with bringing her research to life with life during this time, and the war on opium, the toll it took on it's users, and those who sought to sell it. I was intrigued by the history of plant collectors. Elodie's father is a plant collector, and his search for a rare orchid not only cost him, but it takes a huge toll on his family. He was not a character I cared for what so ever at all.
The romance aspect of the story was something I wasn't a fan of either. I liked Alex as a character, and I know why their "romance" came about, and I respected him even more so for doing what he does for Elodie, however, being that she is a strong character, and as she describes herself, more of a wildflower, the forcefulness of the romance didn't fit her character. However, what transpires between Alec and Elodie is something that goes in line more with how society was at this time.
This was an interesting book. I loved the diversity of it. I liked that it was something different than what I was excepting. I liked that it's a book that stands by itself. There's adventures, and history, which I enjoyed. Overall I didn't love it, and but I didn't not like it either. It's a good read that offers something different for YA readers who don't want to read another fantasy, contemporary or dystopian book.