Book Review: The Bedlam Stacks

The Bedlam Stacks
By Natasha Pulley

My Edition:
ARC Paperback, 324 pages
2017, Bloomsbury
ISBN: 9781620409671 (hardcover)
Expected Publication Date: August 2017

Merrick Tremayne is an ex-smuggler trapped with his stodgy brother in their old family home as it literally falls apart around them. His brother is ready to ship Merrick off to a small town and force him into being a pastor when Merrick’s old friend and army buddy, Clem shows up. Clem proposes Merrick join him and his wife on a risky quinine-stealing expedition. Merrick’s old leg wound has handicapped him some, but his knowledge of plants is indispensable. Merrick soon finds the expedition is anything but routine as they camp amongst locals who won’t cross a salt line in the woods for fear of what lurks in the woods beyond and living statues.

I loooooved Pulley’s first book, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, so I practically jumped for joy when Bloomsbury asked me if I’d like a copy of The Bedlam Stacks to review.

Here’s another book that I find myself struggling to describe (“Like basically every book you read?” you think to yourself) and it’s because until about the last fifth of the book, I had no clue what the hell was going on. This is the good kind of clueless though. Not the kind that frustrates you because you don’t have enough information or the writing doesn’t make sense. This book has a very surreal vibe and it took me a while to get used to the atmosphere. Because of that, I was like ??!? but still very interested while reading.

I did fail at the mental imagery though. Bedlam, the mystical little clifftop town Merrick finds himself in, is built on some sort of salt cliffs that have turned to glass? And there’s a forest (that I totally pictured as a rainforest but I’m pretty sure that’s wrong because it was like always cold and sometimes snowing) with these trees that are so light and airy that they can float and also they explode in a fire? And there are moving statues that are much more than they seem (no question marks here because I actually understood that part). And also there’s a sort of glowing pollen everywhere that can be used in lamps and also leaves light trails when you walk? If any of this sounds even remotely interesting to you, you’ll probably like this book.

Yes, I’m aware that my weird questions don’t make a review. Anyway, that’s some of what goes on in this book and I really wasn’t picturing much in the way of a setting. However, I was absorbed in the characters, especially Merrick and Raphael, his guide through Bedlam and to the quinine trees. I’ve already learned that Pulley is a master at crafting characters, especially male ones. Bedlam is yet another book that is heavily character-driven and normally that’s not what I prefer to read, but I will eat up anything this woman writes. There’s even a little cameo from one of the characters from Watchmaker that I think strengthens their backstory and serves as a nice reminder of Pulley’s other novel for those of us who friggen love it.

I loved the weird, mystical feel of the book and Merrick’s sense of humor and sadness. I loved his conversations with Raphael. I loved the final chapters when things got intense and the magic was more prevalent. The ending was totally unsatisfactory and realistic and I don’t think it could have ended any other way but damnit, I wanted it to!

If you like heavy character development, male relationships, the mid-1800s, surreal magic and the feeling of desperately wanting two people to just be together forever, then I highly suggest both Watchmaker and Bedlam. I can’t say I loved Bedlam as much as I loved Watchmaker (it’s not far behind though!), but once more these characters slowly curled their way around my heart and then at the end of the book squeezed the hell out of it. I will absolutely be buying the hardcover once it releases because this book is bound to be as beautiful as Watchmaker if the design of this ARC is anything to go by. I’m fully ready for whatever she writes next and NEED IT ASAP.

I received this book for free from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
Natasha tweets!

Book Review: The Bookman

The Bookman
By Lavie Tidhar

My Edition:
E-Book, 384 pages (paperback)
2016, Angry Robot
ISBN: 9780857665973

It is the 19th century and a lizard queen rules an England where a mysterious assassin kills his targets with book and authors live alongside their fictional creations. Orphan, is just that – but happy enough, living in the basement of a bookstore and working up the courage to ask Lucy to marry him. But when The Bookman strikes, targeting Lucy, he tears apart Orphans life and now Orphan must set off on a strange journey filled with automatons, pirates (both lizardine and human), Martian probes, criminal masterminds and The Bookman himself, if he ever wants to bring Lucy back.

So, if you know me at all (even via the internet), you know I couldn’t resist a book with book in the title! Especially a fantasy one!

This book is a wild mix of alternate history, sci-fi and Victorian fantasy, sprinkled with odes to a wide array of classic fiction, especially Shakespeare. In fact, there were so many references to other works of fiction that I’m sure I didn’t pick up on them all, but it was fun to spot how Tidhar calls out to those books, be it in the form of a character cameo, plot theme, or even a shop or pub.

This book is challenging to describe, as there are so many characters and plot points that Tidhar weaves into a story about revolution, equal rights, space exploration and of course, love.

In short, a race of anthropomorphic lizards landed on Earth and took over the line of succession in England. There are those who are opposed to them, chiefly, The Bookman. He is a skilled assassin who uses books as his deadly devices. When Orphan’s fiancé, Lucy, is killed when The Bookman foils the launch of the lizard’s Martian probe, Orphan is pulled into the revolution between humans, lizards, automatons and The Bookman.

Orphan’s journey is not unlike that of Homer’s in the Odyssey, with notes of Orpheus’s journey to bring back Eurydice and a smattering of several popular classic adventures. He quickly realizes he’s a pawn in a large game and constantly battles with his own moral compass as he struggles to decide which of the many sides of the revolution to support, all while really striving to be united with the woman he loves.

My favorite portion of the book was actually the Sherlock subplot. Moriarty is Prime Minister and a staunch supporter of the lizards, while Irene Adler is chief of police and Mycroft is well, Mycroft, with his eyes and ears everywhere! No offense to Orphan, but I would have gladly tossed him aside for a full novel on Doyle’s characters running wild in the world Tidhar created.

Tidhar is excellent with his descriptions – even if I didn’t always fully understand what was happening, I could easily picture how it was happening. Here’s one of my favorite descriptions – I love the mental image I created from this:

“Things lived down here. For one crazy moment he had the notion of a vanished tribe of librarians, lost in the deep underground caverns of the Bodleian, a wild and savage tribe that fed on unwary travelers.”

I mean, what’s a better image than rabid librarians!?

I have to say, the “final battle” if you will, left me a little underwhelmed and mildly confused. In the 2016 reprint edition there’s also an extra novella, Murder in the Cathedral, included which details Orphan’s time in Paris (which is glossed over in the main story) and while it was interesting, it felt out of place after I had finished the story. I had a hard time going back to that point in the story after it had already concluded and perhaps it would have been more impactful if it were included in the main narrative, but then again, it might have felt like the story was being sidetracked.

If you’re looking for an epic literary adventure that no only tips its hat to classic literary adventures, but thoroughly integrates familiar characters, or you’re into alternative history with a little sci-fi twist, I would recommend you give The Bookman a try!

I received this book for free from Angry Robot in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions in this post are my own.
You can visit Lavie’s page on the Angry Robot site or check out his own website, or follow him on Twitter (he’s pretty funny).