Best book of the week!
In the third book of his Ibis trilogy, Flood of Fire, Amitav Ghosh slowly draws most of his characters to China during a momentous period in history. The only major character missing from the first book is Deeti, making a home on Mauritius. And of course Bahram Modi, who died at the end of River of Smoke.
It is with the absent characters that we start, in a way, for at the beginning of the novel, Kesri Singh, Deeti’s brother, is unaware of what has happened to her. It is through Kesri that Deeti’s family met her husband, for he was brother to Subedar Nirbhay Singh, the highest-ranking sepoy in the battalion to which Kesri belongs. Kesri is a new character, and we go back in time to learn how Deeti helped him join the battalion and how Kesri, although wary of the character of Deeti’s proposed husband, encouraged the match to further his own ambitions. As those who have been following the series know, that did not turn out well.
Shireem Modi, Bahram’s wife, is finding her life uncomfortable since her husband died. Because his opium was confiscated by the Chinese government, she is left with nothing, dependent upon her own family. But soon her husband’s friend Jadig Karabedian arrives and tries to talk her into traveling to China to represent herself in the opium sellers’ claims against the Chinese government; otherwise, her claim may be disregarded. He also finds it necessary to tell her about Ah Fat, her husband’s illegitimate son.
Zachary Reid has finally been acquitted of blame for the incident on the Ibis but finds himself assessed fees that he cannot pay because his mate’s license has been suspended. He goes to work for the mysterious Mr. Burnham (who, although barely present, seems to affect all the events in the series) restoring a boat. There he is led into a dangerous relationship with Mrs. Burnham.
Neel, the rajah who ended up in prison for his father’s debts because of Mr. Burnham’s desire for his property, is still in China working at an English-language press. As the British Empire draws together a force to invade China, bringing most of the other characters there, Neel begins working for the Chinese government as a translator.
This trilogy clearly depicts Britain, driven by the greed of the opium growers and sellers, as the bully of Asia. Sea of Poppies shows how the Indian farmers were forced to abandon food crops to grow opium poppies, and how then the price of opium was manipulated to make them subsistence farmers. River of Smoke shows British efforts to force the Chinese to import opium, including the lies conveyed back to the British public about the behavior of the emperor. Flood of Fire draws all of our friends back to China to culminate in the First Opium War, when the British stuff opium down the throats of the Chinese.
Overall, I was very satisfied with this series. Ghosh is able to get you completely involved with his characters and is playful and inventive with language. Although I was not happy with the evolution of the character of Zachary Reid from a naive young man to the person he becomes, this is a great series.