The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

I received this novel as an advanced copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not going to preface this review with much. I have too many opinions and thoughts going on and I know if I start writing something now, I will literally ramble and never stop. So with that being said, let’s begin:

When Merrick Tremayne becomes crippled after an injury, he thinks his life of adventure as an East India Company smuggler is gone. Well, he’s wrong. When the India Office contacts Merrick to go on an expedition in Peru for quinine, which is essential for treating malaria, Merrick is hesitant. Even able-bodied expeditionaries have struggled to survive, and he can barely walk. But so desperate is he to escape his trapped life at home, that he sets off against his better judgement. He arrives at a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon, where a salt line separates the town from a forest that is forbidden. Anyone who tries to breach the forest is killed by something – but beyond the salt are the quinine woods and there is no other way to get to them. Surrounded by local lore on cursed woods and lost time, Merrick must separate truth from fantasy in order to find out the history behind this place – and the mystery behind its people.

Let me tell you right now: I was really excited to read this novel. There is this historical aspect mixed with magical realism and so much adventure … I was looking forward to going on an amazing journey.

When I first started to read, I was a little bored. I wondered where exactly the story was going and what the personality of the narrator, Merrick, would be like. Within the first couple chapters, the magical elements started surfacing and I began to pay interest. I started putting the pieces together and making sense of all of the different characters being introduced.

However, there were quite a few things that made me feel … off. For one thing, Merrick is described as a young-ish man, around 30 years old. However, he talks like someone much older than his age. It was very hard at times to put these two things together and imagine a realistic character. He was very good at describing the things that were happening, and I really must say that the author did a fabulous job with her depictions of Peru… but I didn’t feel like Merrick really had a voice or personality. Merrick reminds me of the narrator from The Great Gatsby; an observer who is along for the ride but who really doesn’t have much input. I was much more intrigued by Raphael’s character and that of Merrick’s friend. However, I would have liked to have been invested in the main character, as he is the one who is supposed to pull the reader into the story.

The magical realism in this novel is really done quite well. There were loads of interesting facts, mixed with incidents of magical/supernatural happenings that kept me interested in the story. In fact, had those elements not been there, I would probably have given up on this novel a while ago. To be fair, at times it felt like there really wasn’t a plot. Many things were brought up and the timeline was constantly shifting as the author went backwards and forwards into the lives of the different characters. There were many occasions during which I wondered where exactly the author was going, and it made me feel a little disappointed with the story.

Truth is, I really wanted to like this novel but I didn’t feel like it led to anything significant in terms of plot or theme. It was really well-written, with beautiful descriptions and tons of supernatural/magical elements. However, the plot wasn’t focused and the characters lacked that spark to make me care about them. For those reasons, I’m giving this book a 2.5/5 stars rounded to 3.

Happy reading ~

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