In this coming-of age tale set in 1861, Waller deftly straddles England and China and weaves in historical highlights of plant hunting, the opium trade, and environmental activism.
Eighteen-year-old Elodie Buchanan lives an uneventful life in a small English town. The eldest of 10 daughters, shrewd and responsible Elodie helps her mother care for her sisters and the household in her father’s absence. Mr. Buchanan, a plant hunter, travels for extended periods to faraway places. When Mr. Buchanan fails to deliver an extremely rare and valuable orchid to a client, the entire family is threatened. Elodie begs her father to return to China to fulfill his contract and secretly plots to help him. Defying all social conventions and personal fears, she stows away on the tea clipper her father is sailing on. Fortunately for Elodie, she survives the journey with both her life and chastity intact, thanks to Alexander Balashov, the captain’s adopted son. Elodie narrates in a formal, 19th-century voice that manages to be witty and smart without calling undue attention to itself. A pragmatic young woman, Elodie’s struggle with the uncomfortable weather and terrain is as convincingly rendered as the conflict between her growing love for Alex and loyalty to her family. Historical details, including the liberal prescription of morphine and Britain’s patriarchal economy, lend rich, textural background.
Well-researched and filled with adventure, romance, and lots of tension—this work of historical fiction has all the elements of an intriguing read. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)