Monday, July 10, 2017

The Bedlam Stacks

Title:  The Bedlam Stacks
Author:  Natasha Pulley
Publication Information:  Bloomsbury USA. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  1620409674 / 978-1620409671

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Although I hadn't been shot at for years, it took me a long time to understand that the bang wasn't artillery."

Favorite Quote:  "Stop looking at it as an impossible thing and start looking at it as a thing that must be done."

Bedlam - noun meaning a scene of uproar and confusion, or, in archaic use, an insane asylum or madhouse. Bedlam aka Bethlehem - a small village in the hills of Peru. How much one definition has to do with the other, I leave you to discover.

The story on its surface is about Merrick, an adventurer who finds himself depressed and stagnating because of what he considers a career ending injury. A friend offers him a commission on behalf of the East India Company. The treasure being sought is a source of quinine for India; this source is found in the remote regions of Peru. Merrick's expertise and connections are of value for his grandfather once traveled to and lived in these very regions. Merrick is intrigued and agrees to the mission. Things come full circle when the grandson returns to the grandfather's history.

The Bedlam Stacks is the second novel by Natasha Pulley. Her first book, The Watchmaker of Filigree is a dark and atmospheric book that sends you around in circles like the intricacies of the clockwork it features. It is a book set in a fictitious 1800s London but with a somewhat futuristic feel. It begins with a bomb blast and ends focused on a friendship.

In some ways, The Bedlam Stacks is similar. Both are set in the same 1800s universe, but this book begins in England but brings you to the forests of Peru. Both books are very visual tales. Both are centered on a main character, who for the most part is alone in life. Both become focused on a friendship (perhaps more?) between two men of disparate ages. Both involve clockworks as a recurring motif. Certain characters from the first book even make cameo appearances in this one.

In other ways, the comparison between the two books flat. Perhaps, that is a risk of a second novel that attempts to follow the themes and style of a very successful first book. A understandable inclination perhaps but, in this case, for me not a successful one. I requested this book expecting to be carried away as I am by the first, but I was not. Perhaps, that is the book, and perhaps that is my expectations as a reader.

Perhaps the reason is also partly the characters themselves. The clockmaker at the heart of the first book is a character shrouded in mystery. The book develops the character through his relationships. In this book, Raphael (who plays the comparable role) is a much more present character. A mystery about his past is the heart of this story, but the character loses some of his mystery by being so much a part of the story.

Perhaps another reason is that the first book is a mix of the historical setting and a futuristic fantasy with many elements associated with steampunk literature. This book mixes in a lot more - Inca mythology, science fiction about the essence of time, futuristic technology, and magic. The story is still a visual one, but the elements become muddled. Disappointing for I was so looking forward to this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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