White Orchid
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Linda Ladd’s White Orchid is one of those romance novels that take me back to my early years of romance readership. I found it in the thrift store across the street for a whopping 29 cents, and I couldn’t really pass it up. Opening the cover and seeing the second, inner cover—decorated with a strapping young man with flowing raven hair, a man far to pretty to be real in any way, clutching a porcelain-skinned blonde woman, whose dress is half falling off of her—I was instantly brought back to when I was thirteen years old, checking romance novels out of my local library. I’m sure that if I’d read this book at thirteen, I would have been enthralled; reading it at 30-something…not so much.

The year is 1865, and Southerner Stuart Delaney has fled the ravages of the Civil War and retreated to London. Being something of an opportunist, Delaney will do almost anything to earn money, so he’s sent to India on an errand. He is to retrieve Anjelica Blake, who has been betrothed to one Nicholas Sedgewick since she was a child (and has never actually met him), and bring her back to England. The section of the novel that’s set in India is fascinating and funny. We meet a very young Raja who’s in love with Anjelica, and we see Anjelica and Stuart trying to fight their growing attraction to each other.

Anjelica and Stuart arrive in London, with Anjelica’s two younger siblings in tow, and struggle to assimilate to London life. I found this part to be a bit flawed, since I found it hard to believe that the upper echelons of London society in 1865 wouldn’t bat an eye at Anjelica’s saris or her mixed-race younger bother.

Another flaw is that the story doesn’t really have any tension—no big wedge put between the two erstwhile lovers. Romance novels are supposed to have happy endings—and this one certainly does—but first there has to be a climax (no pun intended), followed by a satisfying denouement. Here, there isn’t any real climax; you just get the ending you always expected to get. There is one supposed plot twist, but it doesn’t really work, and it feels more like an afterthought thrown in by the author. Everything—from extricating Anjelica from the Raja’s palace to sailing back to England to confronting her phantom fiancée—works out on the first try.

And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sex scenes. White Orchid was published in 1995, and it’s pretty interesting to see how far romance novels have come in the last fifteen years or so. Far from the gritty raunch-fests I’m so fond of today, the love scenes in this book are brief and vague, full of flowery language and silly euphemisms. I must be getting desensitized or jaded, because I wasn’t impressed.

All in all, I have to say that White Orchid is a perfectly fine romance novel. It’s actually the type of romance novel that you can recommend to your mother or maiden aunt and not feel embarrassed. If you like your romance novels to be more romance than smut, then this book is for you. Unfortunately, I need a little more tension—and a little more smut—in order to be satisfied. Just don’t tell my mother.

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