This YA novel about an adventurous young woman in Victorian England was very enthralling, and a well written historical novel with references to both England and China at the time. The story involves the work of orchid hunters during that time period and was fascinating to learn about that practice. And Elodie, the main character, is an inspiration as she strives to become her own person in an era that often placed women in the shadows.
I really enjoyed this YA historical fiction set in the Victorian era, and ranging in location from England to China. It's a bit slow-moving, but the characters are well-drawn, there's lots of interesting historical detail, just the right amount of romance, and some interesting (and not heavy-handed) commentary on imperialism and the English desire for conquest. It's a lot of things at once, but the author does all of them well, and I quite enjoyed this.
I do not read a lot of historical fiction. Generally, my favorite genres are fantasy, science fiction, and mystery; however, the atmosphere and attention to detail with the setting drew me in from the start. In addition, the publisher’s description and intriguing cover made me want to read this book, and I am so glad I did!
Elodie is the oldest of ten children, all daughters. Their father is a plant collector for his employer, and spends much of his time away, only returning around Christmas time to spend time with his family and his wife before returning to his travels. Due to the war in China, the father is detained and suffers a horrendous amount of torture, and returns to England, but not to his family. His wife goes into a depression leaving Elodie in charge of the household, in her mother’s figurative absence. When the bailiffs threaten to repossess the house and all their belongings, and turn the mother and daughters out to the mercy of the workhouse, Elodie goes to her father to beg for help. The father, reluctantly, agrees to return to China with Elodie in search of the mysterious orchid called “The Queen’s Fancy”.
This book astounded me. The storytelling is superb, the characters are likable, and the atmosphere is developed with a keen sense for pulling the reader into the story. I was pleasantly surprised with the vocabulary used in the book. Many teen books that are less well-written skimp on vocabulary, and I was pleased to see that I found myself having to look up historical and archaic words, which only increased the sense of atmosphere.
Despite this book’s good qualities, there were definitely parts that were hard to read. Since the book is set in the 1860s, misogyny is rampant. Elodie is a strong individual, and she questions the status quo at every turn; however, she is still bound by the customs of the day. When she travels to see her father, she does so in the company of the village deacon, since it is not proper for a lady to travel alone. The Queen’s Fancy, while a beautiful orchid, is reviled as being improper for a lady due to the resemblance of male and female genitalia, and the deacon admonishes Elodie for possessing it. Elodie does end up traveling to China with her father to retrieve more of the flowers to save the family from the workhouse, but this was highly unusual for a female to do in that time period.
I definitely will look to read more books by this author. “The Forbidden Orchid” was hard to put down!
I want to thank the publisher for allowing me to read this galley in exchange for an honest review.
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