BLURB: “In uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a mysterious forest. Deep within are cinchona trees, whose bark yields the only known treatment for malaria.
In 1859, across the Pacific, India is ravaged by the disease. In desperation, the India Office dispatches the injured expeditionary Merrick Tremayne to Bedlam, under orders to return with cinchona cuttings. But there he meets Raphael, an enigmatic priest who is the key to a secret which will prove more valuable than they could ever have imagined.”
REVIEW: I received this book for Christmas, having been eager to read it for some months. I was instantly hooked by Pulley’s interesting writing and narrative style; from the beginning, everything is vividly portrayed and described, and made the protagonist Merrick Tremayne’s highly unusual home instantly appear realistic and believable. This exquisite description was a feature that I continued to admire throughout the novel, as I genuinely felt that I could see and imagine the various areas of Peru, and the mysterious, somewhat magical land of Bedlam, as though I had visited there myself. As a character, Merrick is easy to warm to – an intelligent, forthright yet compassionate man, we find it easy to sympathise with his physical condition and continuously will him on in his mission in Bedlam.
When Merrick reluctantly travels, together with old university friend Clem, both are met with more than they bargained for when they discover how closely the precious cinchona trees are guarded. Visitors are viewed with suspicion and threatened with violence, and Merrick quickly invents a tale that they are simply on the search for good, Peruvian coffee. Raphael, a mysterious local, offers his aid against the will of the local pub owner, and soon turns out to know far more about Merrick’s quest than is initially realised..
The heady mixture of deep religious belief, superstition and just a touch of magic makes this novel both complex and hard to put down, and the reader is sucked into a world that feels both real and fantastical. I loved reading of the growing friendship between Merrick and Raphael, and found Clem rather a frustrating character. It often felt almost as though he was getting in the way of the story, despite initially appearing to be an integral part of the plot. I was still surprised, however, at how matter-of-factly his death was dealt with, and at the fact that his pregnant widow was barely even mentioned or thought of – this, I felt, seemed out of character for an empathetic and considerate protagonist like Merrick. However, Clem’s death is also overshadowed by the figures of the markayuq, religious statues who seem to have minds and spirits of their own. These figures are both fascinating and terrifying, and reminded me somewhat of the Weeping Angels in Doctor Who!
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. In a strange sense it felt as though not a lot really happened at all, but at the same time it felt fast-paced and I found it very difficult to put down. I absolutely loved the ending and am very much looking forward to reading Pulley’s other novel, ‘The Watchmaker of Filigree Street’, which I have yet to discover.