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Cinchona Madness
Created by ggrihn on 10/10/2017 9:11:41 PM

 31450615 The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley. Reviewed by Gregory G.H. Rihn, Steampunk Chronicle Literary Editor

 

Although from the title, The Bedlam Stacks sounds like it ought to be a new “Laundry” novel by Charles Stross, it is actually the second book by Natasha Pulley, author of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

The Bedlam Stacks is actually a quite different type of story than Watchmaker, although, as established late in the book, it takes place in the same world. The protagonist, Merrick Tremayne, is a former troubleshooter for the British East India Company, which has now formally become an arm of the British Government. Although he was invalided out, his old controller seeks to reactivate him for a deniable mission—smuggling cuttings of the cinchona tree out of Peru in order that it can be cultivated in South Asia. (Such an expedition took place in our world in 1860.)

The highlands of Peru, however, are a much different place than in our world. There are enclaves where no white man is permitted, guarded by clockwork figures revered as saints. In these regions, the wood of the trees is full of an inflammable gas, and the pollen of an ubiquitous flower luminesces, filling the otherwise dark forests with drifts of light, refracted through “white obsidian”. The town of Bedlam, which lies on the edge of the forbidden zone, is a harbor for the “differently-abled” of the region, and a haven for Tremayne and his companion while they debate crossing the zone to reach their intended goal.

With imagery seeming inspired by William Blake and J.G. Ballard, and psychology pointing towards The Heart of Darkness, Pulley’s book becomes an unusual and original “lost world” adventure.

The Bedlam Stacks at Amazon

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