The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Writing: 5 Plot: 4 Characters: 4

The spellbinding adventure story of a British expedition to Peru in 1860 to steal Cinchona trees for their desperately needed Quinine production capabilities. Merrick Tremayne is a badly injured ex-East India Company employee.  Master gardener, one-time opium smuggler and tea plantation manager, he is now living off the “benevolence” of an angry brother in a crumbling estate in Cornwall. Enter Sir Clement Markham – a bit of a swashbuckler with a title – and the backing of the East India Company, and off they go.

The story gets odder and odder as it progresses.  Not a typical adventure story, we meet quinine barons anxious to keep a monopoly, travel to a village in the mountains with very strange and ancient Incan technology, and encounter stone statues that behave oddly.  Most importantly, Merrick is befriended by a large Indian fluent in Quechuan, Spanish, and a kind of archaic English and it is this friendship that slowly takes priority in the story.

I was completely pulled in bit by bit and I don’t think I once figured out where the story was going next.  Pulley’s prose is mesmerizing – I had to slow myself down so I could read every word.  I’ve ordered her previous novel (The Watchmaker on Filigree Street) and hope it is every bit as good!

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