• Natasha Pulley

The Bedlam Stacks


In 1859, ex-East India Company smuggler Merrick Tremayne is trapped at home in Cornwall after sustaining an injury that almost cost him his leg and something is wrong; a statue moves, his grandfather’s pines explode, and his brother accuses him of madness.

When the India Office recruits Merrick 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 desperate to escape everything at home, so he sets off, against his better judgment, for a tiny mission colony on the edge of the Amazon where a salt line on the ground separates town from forest. Anyone who crosses is killed by something that watches from the trees, but somewhere beyond the salt are the quinine woods, and the way around is blocked.

Surrounded by local stories of lost time, cursed woods, and living rock, Merrick must separate truth from fairytale and find out what befell the last expeditions; why the villagers are forbidden to go into the forest; and what is happening to Raphael, the young priest who seems to have known Merrick’s grandfather, who visited Peru many decades before. The Bedlam Stacks is the story of a profound friendship that grows in a place that seems just this side of magical.


I received an ARC of this novel from Bloomsbury Publishing in exchange for an honest review – all thoughts are my own.

The Bedlam Stacks is the first historical fiction novel I have read, and it did not disappoint. This is also the first novel I have read by Pulley and I can easily say I will be going right ahead and purchasing her first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, ASAP. Pulley’s writing is absolutely magical; I found myself caught up in her world.

The characters in this novel were intriguing – I loathed some, i.e. Clem – but I loved Merrick, our main protagonist, and Raphael so much. They were brilliantly created and the relationship between the two of them had me in tears by the end of the novel – both happy and sad! What they go through, and what they have been through, brings them closer together in the end, and it’s beautiful to read how much they care for each other and watch their friendship grow.

The characters all have their faults: some were stubborn, others had anger management issues – *cough* Clem *cough* – and some serious trust issues (the secrets were insane!). It was a nice change from the picturesque array of perfect characters we often see. I also found it refreshing to also have characters with disabilities, whether physical or mental. –I thought Merrick’s physical impairment, and his attitude towards it, were insightful.

The plot flowed quite well, with a few flashback chapters added to inform the reader on the characters’ pasts. The flashbacks weren’t disjointed, and meshed well with the main plot line. I found the book to be whimsical at times, with mystery, forgotten pasts and adventure all intertwined throughout to give the reader a unique story that will stay with you long after you turn the final page.

As a reader, it felt like Pulley’s research into Peru - not just the country and the layout/scenery, but also the history and language - was very extensive and it really showed throughout her writing.

Pulley’s attention to detail and world building was exceptional – I found myself vividly picturing what was occurring throughout the novel, and to me, that is exactly what a novel should do.

I am in awe of this novel and cannot wait to read more of Pulley’s work! It may have also started a small obsession with Peru and travelling.

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