Title: The Bedlam Stacks
Author: Natasha Pulley
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating: 3.5 stars
Summary from Goodreads
In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.
When the India Office recruits Merrick for an expedition to fetch quinine—essential for the treatment of malaria—from deep within Peru, he knows it’s a terrible idea. Nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who’s made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.
Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.
“What’s gone before you, and what will come after,’ I said instead.
‘The past ahead. Time is like a river and you float with the current. Your ancestors set off before you did, so they’re far ahead. Your descendants will sail it after.”
This was a peculiar book. Merrick Tremayne is the protagonist, who we follow thru an expedition in Peru. He comes across people who leave the question whether they can be trusted or not. Some of the characters are based on real people and everything in Peru is real until we come across Bedlam, which is made with fantastical ideas from Natasha Pulley based on true believes and religion. At first when you start reading everything seems normal. There are little aspects that are kind of strange but they are hardly noticed while reading. Still you get the feeling there is more to this story then just a normal expedition ordered by the East India Company. It’s those almost magical touches, sometimes hardly noticed, that kept me reading.
The reason I bought this book was because of its beautiful cover. I didn’t listen to the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” because I do that all the time. Still I can’t help feeling that I expected a little more from this book. Maybe because of the cover. The story around Merrick is interesting but his character development is rather slow. That’s the main thing with this book. The whole storyline goes forth on a slow pace, especially when Merrick is in the village. It is until the last hundred pages that things really get going and started to get interesting. If it hadn’t this kind of magic in its story I would have stopped reading. But that’s the strength of this book. There is this peculiar side of the story which keeps you eager to know what happens next. I think Natasha Pulley is a master on creating that magical eagerness from the reader.
“Being mad isn’t an excuse for being vague. Can we at least have specific madness?”
During the book a special bond is created between Merrick and Raphael who is the priest of the village. And it’s that bond that also got me questioning if there was a chance that there could be more to the chemistry these two men have. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the friendship they had felt more than friendship for the both of them. And it’s exactly that what creates a beautiful bond between the two men. Raphael is without a doubt the most interesting character. You get to know more about him in those last hundred pages. That is probably why I thought from that point that everything was getting interesting. It felt like the volume doubled from that point.
“Stop looking at it as an impossible thing and start looking at it as a thing that must be done.”
I can’t talk a lot about the lyrical and fantastical world that hides behind the trees. I can say that this story was refreshing. I loved the setting. The story starts off in England, moves on to Peru and has some parts in India which is really lovely if you’re used to having your characters in the United States. I would have given it four stars but the fact that this story develops rather slow made it less interesting sometimes. I also didn’t care about some of the characters. I mostly cared about Raphael and sometimes about Merrick.
I would encourage people to give this book a try. There are readers who like a story that develops a little slower. I do like that too sometimes but I’m picky on that. If you’re willing to give it a try you’re in for a different setting, some historical fiction and questions about what is true and what is not. The magical touch is beautiful and gets really interesting.