Pulley skilfully mixes facts and historical fiction with fantasy as the novel turns in a way that you don’t expect.
It is 1859 and Merrick Tremayne is asked to undertake an expedition to Peru by the East India Company. As an ex-opium smuggler, and a gardener, they want him to supervise the search for cinchona trees. The bark of these trees produces quinine, a much sought-after treatment for malaria. Despite knowing that it is a suicide mission, since others have tried and failed, he agrees to go to get away from his miserable life at home. Once in Peru he travels to a mysterious village, given the name Bedlam Stacks. Three large pillars of rock rise into the sky with homes and shops built on to the sides of them.
And this is where fact (the expedition did take place, led by Clement Markham, who accompanies the fictitious Merrick) and historical fiction meets fantasy and you realise that the novel is not going where you thought it might. A line of salt that no one can cross, statues that move, and a priest with knowledge far beyond his years. What will Merrick discover, and will it ultimately be more valuable to him than the precious quinine?