The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley


“Well, if I’m going to go mad I’m sure I’ll find something to fixate on, whether it’s a statue or a tree near a parsonage or what ever. Why not sign me up to the asylum now?” 

Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home, because of a severe leg injury. He isn’t really going nuts, at least he doesn’t think he is- even if it’s absurd that a pine explodes. It really does, doesn’t it? Once a smuggler, he is offered an opportunity for adventure. The India Office wants him to travel to Peru and obtain quinine, but it’s violently dangerous, people do not survive the trek. How is he going to stand a chance when he isn’t fully functioning, with his bum leg? Others have tried and failed. But what is worse, the risk of death or going mad with boredom in Cornwall?

Stranger still, the locals stay away- a salt line keeps them out but is it just superstition? Or is it a way to keep people from snooping? People can’t truly lose time, can they? How is it possible a very young priest swears to have known his grandfather, it just isn’t possible. He wouldn’t have been old enough! Could there really be something solid and true about the superstitions the villagers hold fast to? I love magical realism and there is quite a bit going on here but at times I was thrown off where I thought the author was going. It’s an interesting tale, but at times the danger seemed mild, far more mild than it would have been in reality. Or maybe I’ve seen too many movies and my imagination runs a bit rampant. I felt  a distance towards the main character but I imagine that would be the sort of man to expect from someone who smuggled for the East India Company . He certainly wouldn’t be an open bleeding wound of emotions. What I love is how reality merges with the belief system of those ‘behind the times.’ It’s the most genuine part of the novel.  I had a hard time feeling emotionally bonded to the characters, but it is a good solid story. I need to feel a strong connection, and enjoy emotional displays- be it anger, love, jealousy… this was just too cool for me. Which is likely why I would never be that great of a smuggler.

Religion always takes an interesting turn in these sort of stories. What it excuses, how it mixes with politics. Much like superstitions, people are easily manipulated in what they fear or worship. I found myself thinking, how typical of the times, here is a man from another country coming to pillage from others what isn’t rightfully his and we are supposed to be on his side. I was, but with the nagging voice in the back of my mind saying- how dare he! The ending was good but passion, where is the passion? And yet, the writing is good, it is a creative story that with other writers would have escaped it’s creator. The pollen was this playfully magical character in itself, that supplied my mind with quite a visual. The reason for ‘exploding wood’ was fascinating, so much of the story worked. I think had the characters been less level headed and more fiery I would have been more enthralled. With that said, it’s a creative story with just enough magical realism to keep it from verging on the ridiculous. All of it, in the end, came together. I need to read The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, I keep hearing it’s really good… If you are for adventure that at times is tame, but with a good solid story then this is perfect for you. Coming soon.

Publication Date: August 1, 2017

Bloomsbury USA

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