The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley is the story of a botanist and ex-East India Company smuggler, Merrick Treymane going into uncharted Peru to take illegal cuttings from cinchona trees. The bark from these trees yields quinine; the only known cure for malaria. What starts as an expedition to steal these plant samples leads to the discovery of something far greater.
Here is my spoiler-free review of The Bedlam Stacks!
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A Short Summary
Merrick Treymane is asked to join an expedition into uncharted Peru with Clements Markham. These two are tasked by the East India Company with finding cinchona trees and taking cuttings to start the production of quinine; the only known cure for malaria at the time.
What starts as an illegal mission that will jeopardise Peru’s monopoly on quinine becomes something much more important. Merrick meets Raphael, a local priest who guides Merrick on his expedition and introduces a bizarre culture filled with fantastic oddities that make the experience that much more magical.
While taking cinchona cuttings is still the core of Merrick’s mission, he discovers that there is much more behind this interesting culture and Raphael is at the centre of this wondrous mystery.
Merrick Treymane is, of course, the protagonist.
Merrick starts the story off as a despondent man dealing with a leg injury. He feels he has lost a lot of what he once was, so when the chance for an expedition arises, he fearfully hesitates before he is talked into it.
Merrick is mostly friendly with other characters and keeps to himself most of the time. He approaches most situations critically and thinks thoroughly before acting.
Second, we have Clements Markham.
Clements, or Clem as he is referred to through the story, is all too eager to go on such an expedition and plays a major role in the story. From being Merrick’s partner on the expedition to providing a different perspective on the culture and people they encounter.
Clem is old fashioned in his approach to things, although quite knowledgeable as well. He is quite happy to call the shots, speak his mind and act impulsively when the opportunity presents itself. He is much like Merrick’s opposite in that he speaks and does while Merrick listens and waits.
Last but certainly not least, we have Raphael.
Raphael is Bedlam’s priest, performing important roles in the community as well as in the jungle. While he acts as the guide for Merrick and Clem, his role in the story is far greater.
Raphael is strong, secretive and a lot more at home than either Merrick or Clem. He provides a lot of information on the culture, although not happily. Despite this aggressive demeanour around Merrick and Clem at the start, he later shows a kinder more complex side of his personality.
Of all the characters in The Bedlam Stacks, Raphael is certainly the most interesting to read.
Now, there are many other characters I can talk about, from Martel who puts Raphael in charge of guiding Merrick and Clem to Sing who starts the whole expedition. However, these characters don’t appear nearly as much as the main three I’ve talked about.
The Writing Style
Natasha Pulley uses flowery language and lengthy descriptions to paint each scene with fantastic detail.
While descriptive writing is not my favourite style, I found it the ideal style for this fairly slow-paced novel. The story lingers more on creating a wondrous world and complex characters. The plot itself takes its time to progress, making it a much more relaxed read than your average character-centric adventure story.
Personal Thoughts on The Bedlam Stacks
To start with, of all the books I’ve read recently, The Bedlam Stacks has to be one of my favourites.
While it doesn’t fit into any of my favourite genres or styles, it went on to impress me with each chapter. From the characters to the surreal imagery, I found myself enjoying the way the story progressed and the way the world developed. In the beginning, it had me going with elements of story-telling that I usually find in general fiction, but then it quickly established itself as something unique.
Now, it’s very easy to write a unique story, be it by stepping into the bizarre and unpredictable or being struck by an idea thanks to one’s brilliant imagination. It’s a different story entirely to take that idea and make something great out of it.
Natasha Pulley did just that with The Bedlam Stacks.
Shortly after reading The Bedlam Stacks, I read another book that I saw was a highly reviewed best-seller, The Midnight Library, which turned out to be pretty rubbish. It also burned that The Midnight Library was criminally overpriced for its length and quality.
I wondered how a poorly written book gets so many positive reviews while a genuinely good book has only a fiftieth of the total number of reviews. The answer is simple. That’s the book market today! You don’t need to write a good book if you have enough followers.
Luckily, that doesn’t stop books like The Bedlam Stacks from being published.
I happily recommend The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley to readers who are interested in a unique adventure, well-developed characters and great writing.
Thank you for reading and as always,
Good day, goodnight and happy reading!