Book Review: Orchidelirium by E.B. Roshan

Thanks to Ms. Roshan for offering a review copy of Orchidelirium! I’m not sure I would have picked this one up without prompting, but it was a fun read and I’m glad I had that push to check it out.

What is Orchidelirium about?

An heiress, a tiger, an artificial arm, a hatbox of stolen orchids: each one is a vine in the tangle of Opal Morris’s life. As she begins to discover how they all connect, she will find herself re-evaluating not only her botanical studies, but her whole life.

This illustrated novella, set in an alternative Edwardian England, will be a treat for fans of cozy mysteries and historical fantasy alike.

Let’s start with the characters. I had some difficulty getting the cast straight, at first; they’re introduced at a party, and the prevalence of family means many of them were referred to by shared surnames which made it hard to keep track of which were which. Gem and Opal gave me the hardest time, between both having gemstone names and the POV being somewhat unclear in the beginning, with Opal presuming and communicating Gem’s feelings as well as her own.

That said, the characters were quite enjoyable once you got them straight. I loved Opal’s passion for both her flowers and her family, and her fearlessness in confronting those who needed to be confronted. Gem’s better decorum seemed to balance her well, though I would enjoy seeing a sequel in which they both understand and appreciate that balance better and it can thus shine through more fully.

I enjoyed the Ardmores, as well, and particularly Leonidas. He was honorable and gentlemanly, yet willing to ruffle feathers as needed—albeit with somewhat more restraint than Opal. And his steampunk-style prosthetic was interesting.

Leonidas’s arm will bring us to the worldbuilding. While his prosthetic was interesting and the electric carriage provided some color to the story, the more steampunk elements didn’t feel like they overall had much bearing on the story. His prosthetic could have been more traditional, the carriages horse-drawn, the airships omitted altogether, and the story would have been none the worse for it. As it was, those elements didn’t contribute quite enough color to provide a full backdrop or quite enough influence to seem like a necessary and organic part of the setting. While I liked the idea of giving things a steampunk twist, that twist mostly felt extraneous in practice.

The Edwardian setting was nearly sufficient on its own (Leonidas’s prosthetic being the one truly relevant addition from steampunk), and the writing of it was a joy to read. The prose was smooth, and the dialogue sounded like it had come from an Austen novel. It was proper and veiled in the way you would expect of high society dialogue, with witty remarks scattered throughout (particularly courtesy of Opal). The focus on orchids, as well, was a lovely divergence from the norm, and described beautifully!

Not only was the emphasis on plants refreshing from a setting standpoint, but also in regard to the plot. While Gem had a courtship storyline that became a focal point, it wasn’t the main plot as would often be the case in an Edwardian-era novella; and while there was a mystery, it wasn’t a murder as you would often expect. And this in no way distracted from the importance of the plot to the main character, with Opal established so well in her affection for orchids and her passion for their proper upkeep.

I do think the plot is where the story was weakest, however. The progression of events, particularly after the crime is committed, was a little hard to track; and the resolution involved pieces that felt too coincidental, particularly for a mystery story where every detail carries consequence in most cases. I would have liked to see more time taken to establish those pieces upfront so they weren’t a shock at the end, and more time dedicated to the case in general to clear up the more awkward transitions. Because this story is more character-driven despite being a mystery (which sounds familiar), I wasn’t overly bothered by the weaker plot, at least until the deux ex machina feel of how some of the characters reached the resolution scene.

And as this is an illustrated novella: The art style wasn’t my cup of tea, but the illustrations were cute and they were a fun way to break up the text.

Overall, despite its few weak spots, I quite enjoyed the style of Orchidelirium and I would recommend it to readers of historical fiction and/or readers who enjoy passionate characters and plants.

Rating: 4 stars

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