I have read one previous book by Zoraida Córdova, the first in her Brooklyn Brujas series (which I never continued, shame on me) and I remember really liking it. Now the author has published her first novel for adults and it sounded amazing, so I couldn’t wait to pick it up. Also, look at that beautiful cover!
THE INHERITANCE OF ORQUÍDEA DIVINA
by Zoraida Córdova
Published: Atria Books, 2021
eBook: 336 pages
My rating: 7.5/10
Opening line: You are invited to my home on May 14, the Year of the Hummingbird.
The Montoyas are used to a life without explanations. They know better than to ask why the pantry never seems to run low or empty, or why their matriarch won’t ever leave their home in Four Rivers—even for graduations, weddings, or baptisms. But when Orquídea Divina invites them to her funeral and to collect their inheritance, they hope to learn the secrets that she has held onto so tightly their whole lives. Instead, Orquídea is transformed, leaving them with more questions than answers.
Seven years later, her gifts have manifested in different ways for Marimar, Rey, and Tatinelly’s daughter, Rhiannon, granting them unexpected blessings. But soon, a hidden figure begins to tear through their family tree, picking them off one by one as it seeks to destroy Orquídea’s line. Determined to save what’s left of their family and uncover the truth behind their inheritance, the four descendants travel to Ecuador—to the place where Orquídea buried her secrets and broken promises and never looked backed.
Alternating between Orquídea’s past and her descendants’ present, The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina is an enchanting novel about what we knowingly and unknowingly inherit from our ancestors, the ties that bind, and reclaiming your power.
It’s a bit surprising to me that this book managed to sweep me off my feet at the end. Because it’s not the kind of story I usually like, the family saga with no clear protagonist, that lets us see glimpses of this family member, then that, painting a big picture rathern than intimate portraits of individual people. I like to dive deep into characters so this book was never really meant for readers like me. All the more impressive how much I ended up liking it.
The Montoya family members each receive a mysterious letter from their grandmother Orquídea to come to the family house in Four Rivers for her funeral. She’s going to die soon and wants to give them their inheritance. But this is not about money and riches (although some people are very interested in who inherits the house!), but rather about magic and legacy. Because Orquídea and the entire Montoya family have always been mixed up with a peculiar sort of magic. Whether it’s that Orquídea’s house seemed to spring up in the valley overnight, the fact that she never left the house, that her children and grandchildren tended to be lucky… it’s all because of a deal Orquídea made and now that she’s dying, it’s up to her progeny to pay the price.
The story takes a while to find its footing but by the halfway point, I was finally into it. The book’s strongest part is definitely the flashbacks that tell of Orquídea’s life. Not only is young Orquídea a sympathetic character with flaws and problems galore, but her story is always interesting, full of magic and heartbreak and hope, and it slowly reveals where Orquídea’s powers come from and why she was the strange old lady she turned out to be in the end.
The storyline of the present suffered a bit from being about not one, but two, and actually kind of three, characters. Marimar and Rey, cousins and Orquídea’s grandchildren, as well as their niece Rhiannon are our main characters if this story can be said to have main characters in the present timeline. We see each of their lives a little bit, follow them for a couple of chapters, but never really focus on either one of them. And while the portrayal of these people was expertly done, it’s just not the kind of thing I enjoy in my fiction. Little snippets here and there are nice but I want immersion, I want to follow these characters during their growth, not jump between them. That’s really a matter of personal taste, however, and if you like this sort of story then definitely pick up this book.
The first half of the book also had a pacing problem. We spend entire chapters on the family arriving at Orquídea’s house and going through the whole inheritance/funeral craziness in a lot of detail, learning about a hundred names we won’t (and, luckily, won’t have to) remember. Although I though Cordóva did her best with the dialogue, juggling this many characters made this part feel chaotic and not particularly immersive. I much preferred the montage chapters, where we follow one character over a long period of time. It’s a completely different sort of storytelling but Cordóva does it so well and creates so much atmosphere that this was the part that made me start liking the book.
I also loved how the individual elements all come together in the end, how mysteries are solved and how the magic system (if you want to call it that) is explained. At first this didn’t feel like the kind of book that would resolve things so nicely because everyone seems to just casually accept the weird magic that runs through their lives, and it would have been perfectly fine if it had been left vague, but it ended up making sense internally and all the puzzle pieces fit together. So yes, I loved the ending! And a book that starts out a bit slow or unfocused but gets better continuously is always preferable to a book that does it the other way round.
I liked Cordóva’s writing when I read her YA debut novel, but now I’m convinced that she has a lot more in store. Whether it’s YA or adult, fantasy or something else entirely, I’ll be waiting excitedly for her next book.
MY RATING: 7.5/10 – Very good!