Book Review: Flood of Fire : – “When the Dragon got burned and the Lion escaped unsinged”

Flood of Fire

4/5 Stars

‘A few big bangs,’ observed the officer sagely, ‘can save a great many lives.’ ~Amitav Ghosh, Flood of Fire

Ahhh…..So, this ‘fabulous’ Idea had occurred to the British long before the Americans. Can’t say I am surprised really. The British at that time(most of the 17th, 18th and 19th century…and possibly before that too) were the flag bearers of despotism and well…I am an Indian, if anyone knows how being at the receiving end of that feels like, it would be us.

With Flood of fire, Amitav Ghosh concludes the Ibis Trilogy, and this series is without a doubt one of the finest historical fiction I have read till date. Mr. Ghosh’s impeccable attention to detail, his extensive research and his no nonsense yet creative way to portray history has made this series a must read for any respectable history buff. As with anything linked with history, this series too has a lot of pages, a LOT. With each book in the trilogy he adds 650+ pages to the tale. And yet, even with the slow pace the story doesn’t let you go, yes, you do take rest in btw (I did, had to absorb before moving on) but the characters were so interesting, the whole era itself was so very captivating that you puff away at the tale as you do a Cuban cigar, taste it, enjoy it up-to a point, slowly, then extinguish it, at some other time relight it and carry on where you left it from, and of course its just as good every time.

With The Sea of Poppies we began the tale from the heartland of Bihar, with the farmers toiling away under the British raj, then we progressed on to the traders of the final product (“opium”) in River of Smoke where we follow the sticky balls of opium from the well powdered hands of elite company men and ‘Free Market’ traders(smugglers, traffickers), to its ultimate destination .i.e the shivering hands of a Chinese addict in some dark den in Canton. And with the Flood of fire, we come to the point where every story line in the trilogy converges to give you the first opium wars, where a country which fought to save its citizen from the dark embrace of destruction was thoroughly humiliated and beaten by the ‘Respectable’ and ‘Honorable’ men of an empire which claimed to bring civilization and freedom to its shores, How? by giving them uncooked opium at ridiculously high prices, imposing a *cough*.. loot.. *cough* of more than 12 million Spanish dollars(at that time .i.e.1840’s) and wrested away two islands for the sole purpose of forcing the drug down the throat of an already choking country.

Ahh…I got carried away….didn’t I……..ahm ahm I love the current British, trust me, (John, Lucia, even Ravi, if you are reading this, I love you guys OK). So, Now, onto the book, yes.

The four main characters this book follows are ‘Kesri’, our village woman ‘Deeti’s brother and a proud soldier in the East India Company’s formidable army; ‘Shireen’ ,’Behram’s (our trader from book two) wife, Zachary (Our mulatto upstart), and ‘Neil’ (a convicted king / ‘Munshi’ / Translator / the guy who experiences things from the Chinese side). Their story is woven with the fate of the Chinese and Indian lands so skillfully that you get to know the conflict from every angle. Specially Kesri’s experience, fighting for a foreign power against another foreign power for………….nothing, nothing of consequence of his own is interesting in the extreme. Some of his thoughts for his superiors are, so very relatable, like…

“ skewer this maadarchod seemed far more urgent than fighting some unknown Chinese soldier.” ~Kesri

Ahh.. the beauty of foul language in one’s own mother tongue, but I digress. So, as I have mentioned in the first two reviews too, Character development and strength of its story lines are two of the best aspects of this series. Zachary’s zig zag travels through moral considerations and temptations, good and bad, were again a testament to Mr.Ghosh’s skill at creating an interesting character which showcases that how THAT world molded the unsuspecting and gullible in its own twisted image.

All in all, Bravo!, A standing Ovation!, tilted hats and ‘Bangra’ dance all the way, so, why the 4 stars you ask. Why not 5? Fair question, so here’s the deal, when I had to check to see how much a book is left, to actually count down the pages till I finish it, means I wavered, means I could come out of the book without meaning to, that I noticed the door bell being rung, noticed that I was hungry, noticed that maybe I should sleep because I had to go to the office. Now, you might say that that’s no excuse, but it is, to me it is, so deducted one for just that, for making me read those extra pages that were not so interesting, that made me take a break. Unfair? well no I don’t think so.

But I wholeheartedly recommend this to every history lover, or the ones who enjoy a long read, buckle up guys, this is your door to the 19th century Asia, where all the ‘Fun’ stuff was happening which led to the current shit we are in. Take a gander from the deck of the IBIS.


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