This is a hard book to review or it may be that this is a hard time for me to write a review. I thought that reading would be a refuge for me as we self isolate but concentrating enough to fall into a story hasn’t been easy for me. Oddly, I’m leaning more towards exercise, of all things, stress cleaning, playing Wordscapes and Scrabble on my phone and making meal plans based on the miscellaneous foodstuffs in my house. BUT…if there ever was a story to fall into, this one is it.
Set in the 1850’s, the story follows a sort of mercenary botanist, Merrick Tremayne, as he treks to Peru to steal cuttings of cinchona trees for the East India Trading Company. Cinchona bark is used in making quinine, the only treatment for malaria, and the government in Peru guards the remaining trees to protect their monopoly.
Travelling the same path as his grandfather and father before him, Tremayne finds himself in a hospital colony high up in the Andes mountains. Bedlam is a village full of bioluminescent pollen, rock beds strewn with obsidian, a mysterious disappearing priest and strange religious statues that seem to have a life of their own.
Pulley’s novel skirts several genres: mystery, fantasy, science fiction, and historical fiction. Unless I am reading too much into it, it also harbors a love story or at the very least a fierce friendship that spans generations. It’s a slow read, but not because it’s boring. The best word to describe it would be languid. The characters are richly drawn and unique. I wouldn’t mind spending time with them again in another story.
There is also a not so subtle nod to the evils of colonization which yielded a particularly clever sentence that made me snort laugh with glee (something desperately needed these days):
” It’s a miracle, actually; sickly prematurely aging worryingly inbred horsey idiots have managed to convince everyone else their way is best by no other means than firmness of manner and the tactical distribution of flags.”