Elodie's father seems to have abandoned her mother and her nine sisters. Her father collects plant specimens from exotic locations, but he always returns at least once a year. This time he has been to China. It's during the Second Opium War (1857-1860), and her father has been injured. He has returned to England, though, and won't answer any correspondence from any of them.
Because her father hasn't fulfilled his contract to bring a very rare orchid from China, the man he works for has vowed to take all their possessions which would leave their father in debtors' prison and put the children in the work house or orphanage. Elodie vows to do something about this and visits her father.
He is a broken man. But she convinces him to return to China to retrieve the orchid specimen in order to save the family. Even though it's highly unacceptable, Elodie stows away on the ship her father is travelling on so that she can help him finish his assignment.
We have an adventure on the sea and then a harrowing trip through the Chinese wilderness during a time of unrest. There is a man racing them to the orchid and trying to sabotage their efforts. The atmosphere is richly created and brings you right into the story. While I did think there were some slow parts, I still enjoyed the journey. If you can't believe the characters, a book like this would not be effective. The desire to see these characters achieve their goal is what makes the journey compelling.
There is also a budding romance, and it's more complex than we first understand. We learn more and more about these characters' pasts as the story unfolds which also keeps the reader entranced. The danger feels real, but some of the lucky breaks are a bit contrived. However, it all serves to get us to the Happily Ever After.
At the end, Waller includes factual descriptions of the events and places in the novel and an extensive bibliography, which I love. I think this book will have to be pushed to teens. Those who are historical fiction fans and maybe have enjoyed her other book should be directed to The Forbidden Orchid.
Published by Viking BFYR, March 8 2016
eARC obtained from NetGalley
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