Although I hadn’t been shot at for years, it took me a long time to understand that the bang wasn’t artillery.First line in The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Author: Natasha Pulley
Published: July 13th 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
Buzzwords: Peru, disabled MC, friendship, culture clash
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 fairy tale 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.
Through The Bedlam Stacks author Natasha Pulley takes the reader on a journey to a far-out village in Peru in the year 1859. We follow Merrick as he hesitantly has agreed to help his friend Clem and the India Office collect cuttings from some very special trees that can treat malaria. They only grow in Peru but are heavily guarded to keep a monopoly in place, which makes the mission one of high risk.
Merrick is recruited because of his great knowledge of plants, but he worries about the strain the journey and danger of the mission will put on his leg. You see, he was previously injured and now has trouble walking without a cane. His disability is one of the major topics of the book. I haven’t been able to find any own-voice reviews of this book to gauge the quality of the disability representation in here. However, in my own humble opinion, it was done in a way that was both respectful and educational. Very much one of my favorite aspects about the book. He’s also not the only character with a disability.
Slower Than Slow
Patience is a keyword should you decide to read The Bedlam Stacks. It is so slow that it almost grinds to a halt. Luckily, you’re rewarded for your patience when you get to the end. It’s the kind of book that if you DNF it midway through, you have no idea what it’s about. Just trust that there’s a point to it all.
The way this book explores different kinds of friendships was what really made me love the reading experience. It goes into how friendships aren’t necessarily logical. Sometimes it just works, and other times it’s way more complicated than that.
I also just adore when characters show affection for each other, and The Bedlam Stacks very much delivered in that area.
He laughed. It showed how he had been when he was younger. Mild-mannered and handsome. In a shilling-spin of an instant, I realised that he wasn’t crude work but the ruin of something fine.
The Landscape of Peru
A lot of time is spent describing the landscape of Peru that Merrick travels through, and here we get to the reason why I only rated this book 4 stars and not 5. This description-heavy style of writing isn’t exactly my favorite. I have a hard time picturing what I’m reading, which means that these descriptions do nothing for me. Some of the magical realism aspects also went a little over my head because of this, but not to the extent that I wasn’t able to understand the story. I would have loved a more atmospheric writing style to make me feel like I was in that little village in Peru. I’m sure that would have made me love the book even more.
A book that took me out of my comfort zone, but nonetheless, gave me a reading experience I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. Natasha Pulley has woven an incredible story that slowly but deliberately pulls you in through deep character interactions and a desire to uncover the secrets of a small village.
My last attempt to convince you to read The Bedlam Stacks is this quote:
It’s good for a person to be terrorized by a goat. Hard to get high and mighty when there’s something chasing you for vegetables.
I hope you found this review useful. It’s a book I highly recommend, but it’s also very much a book that isn’t to everyone’s liking. I’m just very happy I read it, so let me know if you plan to. Or already have. I definitely plan to read more from this author.