Book Review: River of Smoke

If the charter of your liberties entails death and despair for untold multitudes, then it is nothing but a license for slaughter.

River of Smoke begins with a raging sea cyclone in 1838 and with three ships that were caught in it: the Ibis - that had started its voyage in the Sea of Poppies carrying a cargo of convicts and coolies, the Anahita - owned by the wealthy merchant Bahram Modi, which holds the largest consignment of opium ever to leave India, and the Redruth - carrying Frederick Penrose, a horticulturist determined to track down China’s rare and priceless plants. The three stories of the three ships sail in parallel in the River of Smoke before converging at Canton crisscrossing each other unexpectedly in fascinating ways in the middle of political events that had culminated into the First Opium War.

River of Smoke is the second part of the proposed Ibis trilogy and is sequel to the Sea of Poppies. However, contrary to expectations, the River did not start where the Sea had ended. Instead most of the beloved characters from Sea of Poppies were scattered by the Cyclone with the River mainly following the stories of Paulette - a French orphan masquerading as a deck-hand and Neel - a pampered raja charged with embezzlement: from the Sea of Poppies, and in turn presenting fresh new set of characters with their own faults and fallacies. This for the reader, has resulted in two very loosely coupled novels that continue to bear the same thematic backbone but eventually materialized into entirely different fictional products. The opening felt clumsy for me, perhaps because I was expecting the same characters pursuing their storylines, however the novel gradually picked up pace.

Like the Sea of Poppies, the novel's strength lies in the brilliant projection of the author’s thorough research in the disguise of fictional fantasy. Mostly set in Canton in the middle of the struggle between the Chinese authorities who were determined to abolish the opium trade and the opium merchants who had their ships converged in Canton: the River of Smoke is a mostly readable historical novel. Here, history has survived beneath the personal tales of the characters.

Author:Amitav Ghosh
Date of Publication:2012
Number of Pages:Approx 560 with cover

Book Review: River of Smoke

I had received the copy from MySmartPrice. Thank you Ranjan for giving me this opportunity. You can buy this book at amazon or at  flipkart in case you live in India.

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