The Orchid Hunters

I wrote to Kitty again today. Marcus raised an eyebrow at me as I handed the letter to the first mate. He’s so trusting of the natives but not our fellow Englishmen. When I pressed him on the point he muttered something about colonial savages and I pretended not to understand his meaning.

It pains me to admit that Marcus is correct. Captain Dawkins of The Liberty is a prime example. He is the colour of mahogany and it makes him appear dirty. He’s slovenly and eyes the half naked native women. I despair. We are among the ungodly and the fallen and all because of a damned flower.

***

The Elephant Orchid featured in this story is a fiction. I saw a documentary in which a herd of elephants stopped to caress the bones of their dead. I already had an idea about a pair of adventurers in search of an orchid and the elephants set me thinking about the nature of family and loyalty.

This issue is still available from Alt Hist.

Reviews

Two Englishmen in Africa searching for the rare Elephant Orchid in 1892. Philip is an Etonian twit obsessed with class distinctions, there only for the sake of the woman he means to marry. But everything changes when they fall into the heart of darkness. A tale in the classic mode, revealing the corruption that lies within the human heart and also the possibility of redemption. Lois Tilton for Locus Online

 “The Orchid Hunters” is a superb story by Priya Sharma following an expedition to Africa to find the rare elephant orchid. Told in diary format, it is elevated above a run-of-the-mill Victorian adventure by excellent characterisation, atmospheric jungle and a plot that is far more involved than it first appears. Gareth D Jones for SF Crowsnest

 “The Orchid Hunters” is a strong look at class prejudices by Priya Sharma. Set in the 1890s as two Englishman make their way through darkest Africa in search of an elusive orchid, Philip is hoping that his retrieval of the bloom will clear his way to marry Kitty Huntley, whose father is an avid botanist. Philip’s partner on the journey is Marcus, the son of their family’s long-time servant, and Philip’s opinion of Marcus is clearly at odds with the reality of what is happening, clearing demonstrating the way class consciousness effects Philip’s perceptions of the world around him. By placing the two men in Africa instead of in London, Sharma also allows herself to present a strong correlation between Philip’s class prejudice and his racial prejudices, making the character highly unlikeable, but in a very memorable story. Steven H Silver for Tangent

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