The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley
Release date: August 1, 2017
An ARC was provided by Bloomsbury in exchange for an honest review.
Summary: 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.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Right off the bat, I found The Bedlam Stacks less confusing than Pulley's previous title, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. However, tonally, it's not a story I enjoyed. I couldn't click with Merrick's narrative voice, although I loved the flashback scene in China. The dialogue didn't do much for me either; it felt monotone and didn't bring the characters to life for me. I also couldn't click with the writing style.
Also, I really, really wanted more of Minna. She's there for only a short part of the journey because of spoilery reasons, but I wanted her there for more of the story. Inti was a nice female presence, and I liked how The Bedlam Stacks challenged colonialism and assumptions about other people groups. The markayuq were super fascinating and creepy and one of my favorite parts.
Language was relatively clean until the end of the book when Raphael started dropping the f-bomb out of the blue.
The Verdict: Since I'm no longer the primary audience for YA, I'm trying to branch out a teeny bit, but it might be better if I stick to YA... Not a terrible story, but I couldn't connect with it in ways that people who primarily read adult fiction might.
Will I be adding this book to my library?: Probably not.