“She was the mouth of an ancient god who would swallow the world. She was an ocean of stories, memories, thousands of little moments that made up her whole being.”
Zoraida Córdova’s The Inheritance of Orquídea Divina (Atria Books 2021) is an absolute delight of a novel. It’s House of Spirits meets Practical Magic meets Big Fish meets Encanto. There’s magic and mystery, family drama and secrets, ghosts and monsters. Steeped in magical realism and biting with sharp and witty dialogue, the novel was not at all what I expected. The cover, while gorgeous and expected with magical realism, doesn’t show the humor and heart that made this work so brilliant.
Orquídea, the Montoya family matriarch (and yes, The Princess Bride is referenced) has never left her home in Four Rivers since she appeared there. She married and buried multiple husbands, and raised several children and grandchildren in the house she built. The house is full of magic, protected with spells and enchantments. But the children outgrow their belief in magic and began to see her not as a powerful witch, but just a bitter old lady. Those that survived, scattered – leaving her alone. But Orquídea sends them an invitation to her death, urging them to come collect their inheritance. And they come. Only she doesn’t die, she turns into a tree after leaving the house to her granddaughter, Mari. The house promptly burns down after a family fight.
Marimar never knew her father and her mother drowned when she was a teen. She blamed Orquídea for not protecting her mother, and she fled to New York and lived with an aunt and her cousin Rey. While there are numerous cousins, Mari, Rey, and Tatinelly carry the present-day story. They are marked with magic when Orquídea dies/transforms. Tatinelly gives birth in the house while chaos ensues, and the child is marked as well.
Seven years pass, and something is hunting the family. Mari, Rey, Tati and her daughter, Rhiannon, set out to Ecuador to find out Orquídea’s secrets so that they can stop whatever is hellbent on killing them all.
The novel is told in dual timelines, slipping into Orquídea’s childhood and her running away to join a sideshow circus where one of the exhibits is an actual Living Star, having fallen from the sky and been captured. The Star, and his magic, are controlled by Orquídea’s first husband. A toxic love story unfolds, and a plan is hatched for both of their escapes.
This novel thrums with the sound of grasshoppers and hummingbird wings. It smells like fresh dirt and roses, and it tastes like salt from the sea. It sings with love and magic, the blood the binds, and the family we choose.
Read this book.