Natasha Pulley 2017 Bloomsbury Books
This was a recent Goodreads giveaway win, which I was delighted about having seen a lot on Social Media about the Watchmaker of Filigree Street, a book I still haven’t read, although I believe there is an overlap of some characters between that book and this, the author’s second novel.
So The Bedlam Stacks – from the blurb
Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. The shrine statues move and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for Malaria.
By 1859 on the other side of the Pacific, the hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and the India Office coerces injured expeditionary Merrick Tremayne into one final mission to Bedlam.
As Merrick travels into hostile territory, he discovers a legacy which will prove more dangerous and valuable than the India Office could ever have imagined.
Not really sure what to expect of this book but enchanted by its stunning cover it maintained a high position on Mount TBR reaching top earlier this month. A mixture of historical fiction, steam punk and fantasy I think probably sums up this story, but if like me this could put you off – don’t let it, this book is also a slow burn that draws you into to a truly magnificent conclusion.
So, I hear you ask, what is it actually about? Merrick injured from a previous expedition is persuaded by his friend Clem (and his impoverished living circumstances) to utilise his skills in gardening to travel to Peru to collect some cuttings of the Cinchona Trees on behalf of the East India Company to enable treatment of Maleria. An illegal expedition because Peru wish to control the growth and supply of Quinine for financial reasons. Previous expeditions have failed with fatal outcomes so a guide is provided in the form of enigmatic Raphael whose story unfolds as the tale progresses. Weather conditions necessitate a prolonged stay in Bedlam and delay the final part of the secret expedition into the forest, enabling Merrick to learn more about Raphael and the village community of Bedlam where his Grandfather had visited many years previously.
For the early part of this story I felt somewhat confused, there was lots happening without significant explanation, however the plot was clear insofar as I new the purpose of the story so I was able to progress without too much worry about the minutiae. And trust me when I say, persevere with this book because as well as being beautifully written everything is fully explained as the book reaches its beautiful and tender conclusion. This is a story of friendship and love, culture difference and understanding, myths and beliefs, fear and trust.
A 4 star read for me, well worth reading with a wonderful line from late in the book which I shall leave you with about translation and about how the same thing can be understood by any culture, but only when translated properly.
…’I don’t like bad translation. I don’t like idiots who go around telling white men that the mountain’s alive and it thinks things, and that villages are watched over by special people who turn to stone.’
This quote is talking about the Markayuq; the mysterious statues in Bedlam which move, which added for me a creepy element to the story as it progressed and to discover the Western translation…well you will need to read the book!