Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Review: FLOOD OF FIRE, by Amitav Ghosh
I finally did it folks- I ate the whole thing. It took weeks and weeks. Months. I started this book in late July and finished it just under the wire in December. Granted I didn't read it every day but still. Flood of Fire is a tome in its own right and the end to a series of tomes- the Ibis Trilogy is composed of three chunksters that get ever more chunkier. Sea of Poppies, volume one, was an action-packed book of respectable length and depth; River of Smoke was longer and more about setting and character, and finally Flood of Fire just blows them all away with the combination of plot, meticulous research and mesmerizing characters. And now it's over, though Ghosh does leave the door open in the final lines for more.
I don't know if I could take any more. The first thing people ask me about books in series is, "could I read it as a stand-alone?" I think the answer is yes in this instance. After getting hooked on Sea of Poppies I devoured River of Smoke as soon as it came out but that was a couple of years ago and I haven't touched the series since, so while I have read the whole series it's been long enough that I've forgotten a lot. And there is enough set-up in Flood of Fire to get you settled.
That said, I do think the best way to experience Flood of Fire is as part of the series, so I would recommend reading the whole thing, which is a magnificent series. It might take you a solid year but it would be worth it to get lost in this world. If you've started the Ibis Trilogy and are wondering if you should finish the answer is yes. If you're curious and wonder if you should start, that would also be a yes.
So on to the review. I really enjoyed the book, even if it took me six months to finish it. It's so immersive, so detailed and packed with so much activity and such great characters; it's really bound to be a classic end to a classic series. Ghosh has accomplished something amazing with this series, illuminating one of the corners of history that was so important in the creation of the modern world- the opium trade. He tackles his subject from the point of view of a soldier, an officer, an American finding his way, a bored married woman, a clueless functionary, a young woman alone, a mixed-race drug addict, a widow. The narrative is full of coincidence and happenstance and reversals; the guy you like at the beginning turns into a villain and the woman you don't dies tragically when she loses her last chance at love.
It's a lot to take in. I can't recommend the series highly enough but you definitely have to be in it to win it. Parts of the book were a slog and I will admit to some skimming. Military history is sort of not my thing; I was in it for the characters and while I admire Ghosh's research it was a lot. My favorite characters, like Kesri the soldier and Shireen the widow, give us historical and social context alongside moving personal stories and growth. Even Freddie, marginal opium-smoker, lends a certain insight into the functioning of this world that helped make ours.
I will say that however long it took me to finish I was never bored with Flood of Fire and never considered not finishing it. It was just that settling in to reading it was a commitment because I knew I'd be glued to my chair for at least an hour at a time. But the book, and the series, is so worth your time and the effort it takes.
My reviews of Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.