Score: 91+/100 (9.1+ out of 10)
Always Orchid by Carol Van Den Hende is the third exciting entry into the Orchid Blooming series. The series follows an orphaned Chinese-American woman named Orchid and her star-crossed lover, Phoenix.
Phoenix, a successful businessman and twin who is already riddled with insecurities passed onto him from his father, lost multiple limbs in a horrific train accident. He had made a valiant attempt to save a homeless man from attempted suicide. Well, guess what? This book largely features Roy, that same homeless man whom Phoenix had heroically saved and sacrificed himself for.
Roy is ultimately the new tritagonist of the series, a man wrestling with a lot of the same insecurities and questions that Phoenix and Orchid had in books one and two. Roy was once at the lowest point in his life and at the lowest standing on the societal hierarchy—a homeless, jobless, hopeless, lost case with nowhere to go and no one to run to. However, Phoenix's sacrifice changed him, causing him to pursue a life worth saving. Roy became a private investigator, and a rather clever one at that, armed with a lot of the smarts that one can only learn on the streets.
Eventually, Roy becomes curious about the prospect of using his investigative skills to find the man who saved him. The problem is, he doesn't know who that man was or if he's even alive!
That's right, all Roy has to find Phoenix are some scattered mentions in newspaper articles, links to a possible twin (Caleb), and his own wits. It's impossible not to get behind and cheer for Roy on his quest for truth, discovery, and gratitude. He wants desperately to thank the man who not only saved his life but gave him a second chance to start a new one.
The book also continues to follow the core couple, Orchid and Phoenix, as they pass the one-year mark in their relationship. This shocked and surprised us because it feels like Orchid and Phoenix have been together for at least five years. Maybe it's the length of the books in this series or all the ups, downs, and crazy experiences that the two have had, but their relationship seems to have been going on for a lot longer than a year.
Anyway, the couple is at a precipice—on the threshold of a huge move. Orchid is moving back to China, and Phoenix has the difficult choice of whether to go with her or not. Now, you'd think this would be an easy decision: the love of your life is leaving, so you would want to go with them, right? However, Phoenix is both a business owner with huge responsibilities and also disabled, which he feels would make him a burden to Orchid. There's also the issue of the cultural acceptability of a disabled person in China that Phoenix is concerned about. This seems to be a very understandable concern.
Actually, this reminds us of a Confucian concept that we'd heard of related to the practice of lingchi (slow cutting), a brutal execution method used in China until over a century ago. This often involved the dismembering of a person (being executed) with the idea being that it would punish them in the next life as well as the current because altering your body was seen as an “unfilial” practice that would cause you not to be “whole” in the afterlife.
So, you've gotta think that Phoenix, a well-educated person, would have that knowledge in the back of his mind and be concerned about how his disabilities (missing limbs) will be perceived by the Chinese. It's a nice and interesting little touch.
Phoenix is far and away the most interesting, relatable, and sympathetic character in this series. Despite Orchid's name being in the titles of every book, Phoenix is really the heart and soul of the series, especially when you consider that it is a series dedicated to amputees who have lost limbs in combat or by other means.
His feelings and thought processes, while uncomfortable and frustrating to read at times, are very understandable. Phoenix is actually a very dark and—at times—depressing character. He's also a character who heavily leans toward pessimism and negative thinking, where as Orchid is usually quite optimistic, positive, and hopeful. Now, Phoenix wasn't always like this. In book one, he was a pinnacle of a man: strong, athletic, smart, independent, and successful. His confidence seemed to be overwhelming, although we did get a glimpse into how self-conscious and even insecure he could be, largely thanks to his dad's unreasonably high expectations.
It's the very fact that he lost a lot of that (along with his limbs) that made Goodbye, Orchid the most compelling book in the series. Phoenix had to relearn how to live, this time with the absence of limbs.
This book continues that struggle and conflict. Phoenix often feels like he's not handsome/beautiful, desirable, or complete. Thankfully, he has people like Orchid and Rina to remind him otherwise.
Speaking of Rina, she's in this book! Rina, Phoenix's ex-girlfriend, was one of our favorite characters in the previous books, and we actually fell in love with her and her chemistry with Phoenix. We hate to say it, but many of us vibed more with the pairing of Rina and Phoenix over the obvious one of Orchid and Phoenix. Rina really seemed to love and care for Phoenix, really being the first partner he had who ignored his disability and even slept with him in one of the most emotional, powerful scenes in the series. Rina, it seemed, helped Phoenix to feel like he was still loved and wanted even after Orchid had reacted as she did (because Phoenix's injuries reminded her of her parents' fatal car crash).
Rina was, overall, a very good person who was caught between two people (Orchid and Phoenix) who needed to be together for the sake of the narrative. It was kinda unfortunate how that came about.
Caleb, Phoenix's twin, also remains an active character in this series, continuing to serve as a foil to Phoenix, although to a much lesser degree. Phoenix and Caleb are all good, and any tension that existed in the previous books seems to have subsided.
A lot of the intrigue in this book comes from Roy's quest to meet the man who saved him and the secrets he might hold that are relevant to Phoenix and Orchid.
This book and this series come from a place of love and care. The author did a lot of research and actually interviewed amputees and war veterans who struggle with these types of issues. She even interviewed people who understood how courts work for the sake of one of the book's big surprises.
We definitely recommend this book if you're into this sort of real-life, romantic drama.
Check it out on Amazon!