REVIEW: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
SYNOPSIS: 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.
GENRE: Fiction, Historical, Fantasy, Mystery...
RATING: ★★★★☆ / 4 Thrilling and Dreamlike Stars
REVIEW: I received this book from Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
I love how Natasha Pulley's books just bust out of those typical genre walls. After reading the author's first book, THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET, I was enamored with her unique writing style and her blending of so many different genres. And THE BEDLAM STACKS has officially made me a lifelong fan because it's clear Natasha Pulley is only going to get better and better with each book.
I was hooked from the very first page. Mysterious, intriguing, and the witty British repartee is so spot on. Perhaps I was already tuned in to the author's style but I loved the set-up for the entire book at the beginning before any real action started. The descriptions and conversations were so amazing that I was on page 75 before I even knew it. I mean, exploding trees! Strange statues and mysterious letters...I was pulled straight in.
THE BEDLAM STACKS is definitely one of those books that is hard to put down (I warned you, so don't blame me when you find yourself losing sleep just so you can read one more page). But at the same time, just like Pulley's first book, the pacing is a bit slower than you might be used to reading However, even though I use the word "slower" it doesn't feel like like it drags. The best way I can describe it is being immersed. You're being immersed in this world and these characters. You're given time to see everything and feel everything. By the end it feels like a complete experience.
Merrick, oh Merrick. He might just be one of my favorite new book characters. He's a surprisingly complex character. A bit broken and newly hesitant but also with an inner fire and drive that he'll never lose that propels him onward and upward. A former smuggler with a heart of gold. The way he evolves throughout the book was mesmerizing to me. Placing him in a remote village in Peru surrounded by mysterious people and magical pollen and trees was equal parts dreamlike and thrilling.
There's a mystery/magical realism element to the book that isn't actually too mysterious for the reader. That doesn't mean it's boring or anti-climactic though because you're still not quite sure what's coming after Merrick learns what we the reader have already figured out. The end events are still a complete surprise because even with the all the secrets coming to light, the resolutions aren't easy, there is an action packed maze to complete first, and the imagination of the author just keeps escalating.
As I learned with Pulley's first book, the relationships that are forged are the true heart of her novels. For all the magical elements and historical curiosities, it's the characters and their connections that keep you reading. Raphael and Merrick, the slow way in which they get to know each other and grow an amazing friendship, it feels epic and big. It gave me all the feels until the very last word.
(And for those curious people who have read THE WATCHMAKER OF FILIGREE STREET, there are some interesting crossovers into this book. A few things that will definitely intrigue you and answer a question or two.)
Of course I don't want to spoil anything major for you so I won't give anything else away. I'll just say that if you're not familiar with the author's style, it can be a little strange at first, but I definitely think this book is worth finding that rhythm. I loved it and definitely recommend it.
Review by The Literary Llama