Merrick Tremayne returned from China and India with a much altered future. His leg was grievously wounded, rendering him unable to acquit his duties for the East India Company leaving him unemployed and with few prospects. His older brother Charles grudgingly gave him shelter in the crumbling family estate, but only until he is well enough to go make his way elsewhere. In 1859 the East India Company is besieged by malaria in India, the only known treatment comes from the bark of the cinchona trees found in Peru. Merrick is offered a chance to reclaim his life, to take part in an expedition to Peru to bring back cuttings from the trees in order to cultivate them elsewhere under the control of the East India Company. There are several obstacles to the success of such a venture: Merrick’s physical condition, the dicey nature of success with the trees, and the violent cartel that defends the South American cinchona groves. The East India Company is willing to give Merrick the opportunity because of his skill with botany and his family connection to South America. Both Merrick’s father and grandfather had traveled to Bedlam, the area in Peru where the trees can be found. Possibly some of the locals will remember the family name and be more favorably inclined to him than to other failed expeditions. Bedlam is a strange and wondrous place with many unusual occurrences. There he meets Raphael, a priest with a connection to his family’s past. Blending mystical realism and historical fiction, Pulley has written a novel that is a delight to read!— Deon Stonehouse
August 2017 Indie Next List
“The Bedlam Stacks is a gorgeously detailed historical fantasy novel that spans from England to China to Peru. The year is 1859, and Merrick Tremayne is enlisted by his former employer, the East India Trading Company, to smuggle ingredients for a crucial malaria treatment past the monopoly holders in Peru. Along the way, his story slips into fantasy as easily as sliding into warm water. Though Merrick begins his trip loyal only to the Company, his loyalties shift the longer he's away. Richly described and quietly romantic, this book is an absorbing and beautiful read.”
— Lillian Tschudi-Campbell, The Red Balloon Bookshop, Saint Paul, MN
An Indie Next Pick
Now in paperback, Natasha Pulley's "witty, entrancing novel . . . burnishes her reputation as a gifted storyteller" (Publishers Weekly, starred review).
In 1859, ex–East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall with an injury that almost cost him his leg. When the India Office recruits him for an expedition to fetch quinine--essential for the treatment of malaria--from deep within Peru, he knows it's a terrible idea; nearly every able-bodied expeditionary who's made the attempt has died, and he can barely walk. But Merrick is eager to escape the strange events plaguing his family's crumbling estate, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for the edge of the Amazon.
There he meets Raphael, a priest around whom the villagers spin unsettling stories of impossible disappearances, cursed woods, and living stone. Merrick must separate truth from fairy tale, and gradually he realizes that Raphael is the key to a legacy left by generations of Tremayne explorers before him, one which will prove more valuable than quinine, and far more dangerous.
About the Author
Natasha Pulley's first novel The Watchmaker of Filigree Street was a Sunday Times bestseller, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Authors' Club Best First Novel Award. Her second novel,The Bedlam Stacks was shortlisted for the Royal Society of Literature's Encore Award and longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize while The Lost Future of Pepperharrow was published in 2020 to widespread critical acclaim, cementing her reputation as one of the most original and exciting writers at work. She lives in Bristol.
"An epic journey . . . Pulley adroitly departs from the historical record to make the Peruvian story her own, turning it into a work for magic realism." - The New York Times Book Review
"The Peru that Markham and Tremayne encounter is a sheer fantastical delight. Exploding 'whitewood' trees, lamps made of glowing pollen, moving statues and rock formations of pure glass. Pulley also has a Tolkienian appreciation of the importance of cosiness: centrally heated ships' cabins, snug inns and lashings of hot coffee. What's more, she writes elegantly and plots like a pro." - The Times
"An immense treat for lovers of both historical fiction and the surreal." - The Observer, “Books of the Year”
"Eloquent prose and compassionate portrayals of the myriad relationships among men elevate this extraordinary work."- Publishers Weekly, “Best Books of 2017 – SF/Fantasy/Horror”
"The imagination [Pulley] showed in her impressive debut was no fluke . . . Pulley understands her genre--swashbuckling costume fantasy--but she deals in surprises, not clichés . . . [A] meditation on love, trust, and the passage of time." - Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews
"[A] witty, entrancing novel . . . Pulley makes the fantastic feel plausible and burnishes her reputation as a gifted storyteller." - Starred Review, Publishers Weekly
"Pulley is masterful at infusing The Bedlam Stacks with just the right amount of magical realism and mystery, making this story reminiscent of classic adventure tales of old while being relevant to today . . . Enchanting." - Shelf Awareness
"Pulley's beautifully descriptive language sets the stage for a mysterious and dangerous journey reminiscent of the grand scientific expeditions of the nineteenth century." - Booklist
"Impossible to put down until the end and highly re-readable, Pulley's second novel is magical." - San Francisco Book Review
"Natasha Pulley had a lot to live up to after the runaway success of her debut novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. But she's managed to do just that with The Bedlam Stacks . . . It's a fast-paced adventure story with great characters and a message about colonialism and discovering new worlds . . . Filled with wondrous images, from moving statues to exploding trees." - The Glasgow Herald
"A fast-paced adventure story with great characters and a message about colonialism." - The Independent
"Natasha Pulley's captivating landscape unfolds slowly, her exquisitely crafted prose illuminating magical elements moving just at the edge of perception . . . The Bedlam Stacks is a lyrical paean to the power of transformation, faith and friendship." - BookPage
"[A] complex, immersive story . . . a marvelous mix of historical fiction and the fantastical." - Omnivoracious
"An exotic and magical mystery." - BookPage, "Top 10 Books for August"
"Fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (who will be pleased that a character from that novel makes a cameo appearance) know that Pulley has a way with damaged characters who are looking for a new purpose in life. While there are steampunk elements, including clockwork lamps, there's also a subtle inexplicable magic running throughout the unusual, remote setting." - Library Journal
"A magical hugely imaginative novel set in 1859 . . . Adventure and mystery abound as his expedition encounters moving statues, exploding trees, volcanic glass, floating cities and protective Incas, while dealing with altitude sickness, divided loyalties and otherworldly superstitions that turn out be strangely real." - The Sunday Express
"The story's rich detail provides the reader a clear experience of 1850s Peru while imparting believability to its magic and imaginative elements. Its exciting style, humor and uniqueness are nothing short of charming. Enthusiastically recommended." - Historical Novel Society
"In The Bedlam Stacks, Natasha Pulley's unconventional imagination finds a new voice." - Locus