Saturday, 2 September 2017

Book Review - The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Merrick Tremayne is trapped at his home in Cornwall following an unfortunate accident involving his leg. Unable to walk properly, his family thinks he's slowly going mad as he claims to witness his grandfather's statue moving, and the trees exploding. Brought on board by the India Company to harvest quinine in deepest Peru, Merrick feels like the expedition is doomed to fail, like every other expedition before it. However, while in the town of Bedlam, he becomes embroiled not only in the political, but the magical history, behind the majestic statues that stand on a salt line or begins to question what happened to the previous crew.

I really struggled reading this book, to the point where it took me nearly three weeks to finish it. I wanted so desperately to enjoy it, but unfortunately I found I couldn't. It starts extremely slowly, and frequently goes off on tangents within the first third of the book with many discussions about the build up to the expedition and side stories about going to the East India office and how Merrick hurt his leg. I felt these didn't really add anything to the story, and only served to further slow down the already meandering plot.

However, that said I did like the information included about quinine and the danger and politics behind the need for the trees. The author has clearly put a lot of research behind her novel, and this shines through. The novel itself is very well written and beautifully descriptive. When the expedition finally reaches Panama, I could almost imagine myself there, personally experiencing these events. I particularly liked the small comments about the guinea pigs in the rafters. You also get a real sense of atmospheric foreboding as the expedition starts their quest for the trees, which was great.

Merrick, as the main character, is rather dry in his demeanour. Some events that occur throughout the book he mentions without much emotion, and at pivotal points he seems to lack any emotional depth to describe what is occurring in a way that seems hardly exciting. Even when the action cranks up slightly near the end, I felt Merrick hardly mustered up any kind of emotional response. He's very lacklustre, and there's no kind of build up or emotional payoff whatsoever. Raphael by comparison was a much more interesting character, with a purpose and the emotional attachment to Bedlam and the holy statues. At times, I almost wished the story could have been told through his eyes instead. In terms of the other characters mention in the novel, didn't really get a feel for any of them, and I actually found that some characters that were heavily involved in the first third of the novel disappeared and weren't mentioned again until the last chapter. This was disappointing, and felt like I didn't really get the payout I'd invested in during the beginning of the novel.

I think I came to expect more from this novel than what I actually got. I was expecting something magical and adventurous, set in deepest darkest Peru but in reality I felt that this was more like one man's telling of an expedition that didn't really have proper purpose or conclusion. Disappointing.

- 3 Stars

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