It’s difficult to categorise The Bedlam Stacks, a beautifully worded second novel from the young British author Natasha Pulley.
Part history, fantasy, melancholy, travel adventure, magic and steampunk, it starts in 1859 England. The Royal Geographic Society (and the Foreign Office, ex East India Company) send their wounded former EIC officer Merrick Tremayne to Peru to steal cuttings of the native cinchona tree and return to India to grow the Empire’s own source of quinine.
Lame, he is sent with an RGS adventurer, Sir Clements Markham and his wife Minna. Whilst she stays at base camp, the two chaps set out east to New Bethlehem (aka Bedlam), near the Bolivian border with a native guide Raphael to find and steal the cuttings. Raphael is a Catholic priest and, in the very end, far more than he at first appears.
Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University and perhaps her scholastic background honed her fine ability to tell a story of life and death and a generations-old mystery in a gently paced, yet absorbing, style. The Bedlam Stacks is written in the first person from Merrick’s point of view; his self-deprecation hides the true strength of his own character and the closure he brings to Raphael’s grief.
Pulley’s first book The Watchmaker of Filigree Street was published in 2015 and was shortlisted for many literary awards. The novels main character, Keita Mori, proved to be far more than a simple watchmaker in 1880 London and, happily, Keita features also in The Bedlam Stacks which is a prequel (not a sequel) to the first novel.
Thoroughly recommended for those who enjoy elegantly timed prose and an imaginative plot.
Find The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley in the SMSA Library Catalogue