Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Book 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.

Expected publication: August 1, 2017

5 Stars!

I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

It’s no secret that I absolutely adore The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. I listened to the audiobook last year and immediately fell in love with Pulley’s writing and the atmosphere she builds throughout the course of the book. When I saw her new book on NetGalley, I jumped at the opportunity to snag a copy. The Bedlam Stacks, a companion novel to Watchmaker, is every bit as wonderful as her first book.

It’s so hard to pick a favorite part of these books, but I would have to say it is the writing. Pulley has a beautiful writing style that truly brings the story to life. The word choices are intentional, well researched, and thought out. These are not books to be rushed. They are best when savored. To quote another reviewer, the term “slow burn” was practically created for these novels. Although the plot is fairly simple and straightforward, it is the way that the story unfolds that is so magical. Because of its lyrical quality, these books are divine when read aloud. I highly recommend the audiobook of Watchmaker and I’m sure that the audiobook of The Bedlam Stacks will be no different.

The story starts in London, in a mansion well on its way to dilapidation as a result of the dwindling finances of the Tremayne family line. It doesn’t take long however, before the story moves to Peru and the hunt for cinchona trees to produce quinine. Pulley spent quite a bit of time visiting and living in Peru, which really comes through in her descriptions of the breathtaking and mystical land. It is in those tiny details where the magic of worldbuilding really happens. Her descriptions of everything from the mountains to altitude sickness, rivers of glass and snow atop the cliffs, whitewoods and the beauty of the pollen are vivid and masterful. But I’ll leave that to you to discover. I felt as if I were living in among the characters, with each chapter revealing something more wondrous than the last.

To me, the majority of Pulley’s characters are quiet souls, in a way. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but they seem as if they have soft hearts. I loved Merrick just as much as I loved Thaniel. I loved watching him grow and change throughout the story. In the beginning, he was a broken man with a broken leg who had little to live for, but the journey to the end is really a beautiful one. Clem is a bit of a character – I’ll just leave it at that – though I do wish we saw more of Minna. A few cameo appearances by a favorite…and then there is Raphael. At first I really was not sure what part Raphael was going to play in the story, and was a bit wary of him. But the way the stories wove together in the end was so beautiful and bittersweet. It was truly perfect. I feel as if I really knew the characters and was sad to say goodbye to them at the end of the book.

There is so much more I could say about this book, but it should really be experienced firsthand. I generally try to go into books blind, often not even reading the synopsis as I find not have any preconceived notions or expectations makes the experience that much more enjoyable. I highly recommend both of Natasha Pulley’s books to anyone who enjoys a well written slow burning fantasy novel that will draw the reader in and stick with them long after reading the end. She is definitely an author to watch and has solidified her place as an auto-buy author for me.

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