The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Rating: 4.5 stars
Expected publication date: August 1, 2017
Note: I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
I am a huge fan of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and couldn’t wait to read Pulley’s next novel. While I was thrilled to get an early electronic copy from NetGalley, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t get to see the beautiful cover in person (which is why actual books will always have an edge over E-readers).
Just like Watchmaker, The Bedlam Stacks is full of gorgeous descriptions of magical events, Victorian life, and adventure. Unlike Watchmaker, this books takes the action away from London and into the forests of Peru as Merrick and his friend Clem search for quinine for the East India Company. It reminds me of the classic adventure stories I read as a child as they travel through the Andes into a village hundreds of feet in the air surrounded by obsidian glass cut through the mountains and glowing pollen that leaves a trail through the forest.
Before the trip to Peru, Merrick was an East India Company smuggler forced into early retirement after injuring his leg in China. Barely able to walk, he moved back to his crumbling family home where his brother is struggling with the financial problems that have plagued their family since the previous generation. Merrick spends most of his time out in the greenhouse and swears the giant statue over his father’s grave moves.
Afraid of suffering from the madness that landed his mother in an asylum and hoping to avoid a life at a parsonage, he let’s Clem and his wife Minna convince him to join an East India Company expedition to illegally gather and smuggle out cuttings of quinine trees. They are trying to grow their own and avoid the South American monopoly that drove up the price of malaria medicine to ridiculous heights. Despite his bad leg, Merrick is one of the only plant experts that has a shot of delivering the cuttings to India alive. He also has a family connection to the area as his father was born in the village close to the quinine trees called New Bethlehem, or Bedlam.
At the village Merrick meets a priest that may have known his grandfather, sees statues similar to the one over his father’s grave that also seem to move, and is warned not to cross the salt border at the edge of the forrest unless he wants to die at the hands of the forrest dwellers. While the village itself is interesting to read about, I loved the friendship that grew between Merrick and the priest, Raphael.
Similar to Watchmaker, it begins fairly slow, building up to the last half. The journey they took to reach the village maybe had a bit too much detail, but it was all so incredibly written that I didn’t mind. This a book you want to read at a slower pace to savor the descriptions.
I highly recommend this for fans of Watchmaker, Victorian England, and adventure stories.