3.5 star

Review: Orchid Child by Victoria Costello

Kate is a neuroscientist who covets logic and order, unless she’s sleeping with her married lab director, and then logic goes out the window. So does her orderly life in Manhattan when she’s fired over the affair and Kate’s mother presses her to accept responsibility for her fifteen-year-old nephew, Teague, an orchid child who hears voices and talks to trees but rarely people.
To salvage her career, Kate agrees to conduct a study in West Ireland where hostile townsfolk rebuff her study of their historically high rate of schizophrenia and a local chief Druid identifies Teague’s odd perceptions as the gift of second sight, thrusting a bewildered Kate on a trail of madness, magic, and armed rebellion that leads to her own grandparents, who were banished as traitors from the same town.
When a confrontation with the chief Druid endangers Teague’s life, Kate lands at the intersection of ancient Celtic mysticism and 21st century neurodiversity, where the act of witnessing old wounds can heal suffering in both past and present – even hers, if she can accept the limits of science and the power of ancestral ties.

Note: I received a copy of this an advanced reader’s copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions put forward are completely my own.

This book was advertised as: Celtic mysticism meets 21st century neurodiversity. A hint of fantasy in an otherwise realistic world is usually a classic archetype that I would enjoy, so I definitely had to give this one a try. So when I was offered a copy of this, I had to jump on the ship!

Orchid Child revolves around a neuroscientist, Kate, who has a messy past in New York with her old job. Things get even more tumultuous when she assumes custody of her teenaged nephew, Teague, and move together to Ireland for a new position studying schizophrenia and other psychological disorders in a certain population in Ireland. Combining a bit of mysticism with science and the power of familial ties, this is a story told in multiple POVs and explores what it means to be family over generations and in the community. It also has lots of reference to mental health related aspects.

The characters in this book were quite good. The main ones had distinct personalities, and even if I didn’t overly relate with most of them, I still understood the point of the character and what they added to the story. Each had a defined personality, and were quite believable, and were internally consistent. Many also experienced character growth in a natural manner that wasn’t jarring. The one thing here I would say was that there were a decent number of characters, so sometimes it was a bit more difficult to keep track of the relationships that were being defined, especially as we get through multiple generations, and flip through the past and present.

The plot was quite decent. I think this plot really revolves a lot more around the relationships that are built and explored. In a way it reads a bit like a mystery with some suspense elements built in too because of the secrets that are slowly unearthed, even if the main story doesn’t revolve around a murder. It has a number of twists and turns that were quite exciting, and I also think the flipping of the POVs between the past and present slowly coming together is always a type of storywriting that I enjoy. There were a few plot gaps that I personally wish were more explored, but I think that is just an author’s choice. I just had a few questions at some points that were never really answered, but perhaps they were considered side plots and not all too important to the main story, which I totally understand.

I really liked the themes of family, land, and ancestral homes in this book. I can also see that it’s somewhat based on the author’s discovery of her family roots. I think that was one of the strong points of this book, in addition to the way the mental health is treated both by professionals and the lay person. The tying of the mysticism into mental health was also well done, and I found it to be an interesting new perspective on how to look at it as well. There was also a bit of a historical element to it, which was great in tying it all together. Overall I would say I enjoyed the book and its contents, although there were times in the book where I felt that it was leading somewhere, but it actually took me somewhere else. Again this is likely the author’s choice mixed with my own expectations of what I think would/should happen.

One last point is that I like that the title is tied into the book naturally, or is at least, a part of the story that is clear. It really feels like a “coming full circle” moment, and I always enjoy that.

Overall Recommendations

Orchid Child is a story that mostly takes place in Ireland, revolving around our protagonist Kate as she navigates her new job in a foreign country that takes her back to her ancestral homeland. A story of familial ties and everlasting loyalty, the story really explores themes of mental health, support, and perspective of various members of the community on mental health and its stigma. If you enjoy themes of family, ancestral land, with a hint of mysticism, this may be the one for you!


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