Blue Moon


Glass Beach

Just Once

Last Chance

The Orchid Hunter
by Jill Marie Landis
(Jove, $6.99, R) ISBN 0-515-12768-X
I think I can reconstruct the scenario that led to this book. Jill Marie Landis read an article somewhere about orchids and caught a brief reference to the fact that in the middle of the 19th century, wealthy people all over Europe became fascinated with this then rare flower. To supply the demand for orchids, explorers searched throughout the tropics to find these lovely flowers. And then, as is ever the case with talented storytellers, Landis asked, “What if?” The result is this entertaining a historical novel which takes the reader from a remote island off Zanzibar to the drawing rooms of Queen Victoria’s London.

Joya Penn has lived her whole life on the island of Matarenga where she and her father, with the assistance of the local people, collect orchids for shipment to Europe. Now twenty, Joya wonders what her future will be. Though raised among the Matarengi, speaking their language, and inevitably sharing many of their beliefs and attitudes, Joya knows she is different. Since childhood, she has felt incomplete and dreamed of another existence in far off London. Since her beloved mother died three years earlier and since her Matarengi friends have begun marrying and starting their own families, she has wondered if she is fated to a lonely life with only her father for company.

Joya’s life changes when Trevor Mandeville arrives on their idyllic isle. Trevor has come to Matarengi to find the fabled orchid hunter, Dustin Penn, and to convince the man to sign an exclusive contract with Mandeville Importing. Trevor is both a businessman and an orchid hunter. But Trevor’s commercial aims take second place when he sees Joya. She is the image of his adopted sister Janelle. How can this be?

Janelle is waiting for her brother back at the Penn’s home. Seeing the two women together makes it clear that there is some secret about the two. Like Joya, Janelle had had strange dreams. She had pictured jungle scenes all her life. Dustin Penn is forced to confess the truth about his daughter’s birth. Indeed, the two women are identical twins.

This discovery changes Joya’s life. Trevor and Janelle take her back to London with them where she is introduced to a world she has previously known only in her dreams. Trevor knows that he is attracted to this beautiful woman who looks like his beloved sister, but who is so very different. Joya is likewise attracted to the handsome Trevor.

Much of the enjoyment of The Orchid Hunter comes from watching this child of nature confront the mores of “civilized” Victorian England. A woman raised amongst the uninhibited Matarengi cannot comprehend a society where all natural emotions are controlled and where all behavior is governed by rule after rule after rule. Joya is clearly the proverbial fish out of water. Many of her experiences are funny; others are poignant. She is a unique and cleverly drawn character.

Trevor does not know what to make of Joya or of his feelings for her. Raised by his grandmother to run the family business and to bring social and economic success to the Mandeville family, he has been trained to be responsible and restrained. His plans do not include a relationship with this unusual, passionate woman. But we all know what happens to the best laid plans.

Janelle is likewise changed by the arrival of her twin sister, her other half. She has always seen herself as uninterested in love, preferring to concentrate on her art, her charity work and her friends among the more Bohemian elements of London society. But Joya’s free spirit leads her to reevaluate her life and her priorities.

Many readers, myself included, often bemoan the sameness of the locales of most historical romances. Even an anglophile like me can get tired of book after book set in England. Landis has cleverly provided us with a story that offers both an exotic and unusual setting and and an illuminating view of Victorian London as seen through Joya’s eyes.

I’ve been on a roll lately, with good book after good book to review. I think I have to say that The Orchid Hunter is the best of my recent reads. The characters, the setting, the plot -- all work wonderfully well. Jill Marie Landis rarely disappoints. Her books are well written, intelligent, romantic, sensual, and often have those interesting twists that set them apart. The Orchid Hunter is vintage Landis.

--Jean Mason

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