The stunningly vibrant final novel in the bestselling Ibis Trilogy
It is 1839 and China has embargoed the trade of opium, yet too much is at stake in the lucrative business and the British Foreign Secretary has ordered the colonial government in India to assemble an expeditionary force for an attack to reinstate the trade. Among those consigned is Kesri Singh, a soldier in the army of the East India Company. He makes his way eastward on the Hind, a transport ship that will carry him from Bengal to Hong Kong.
Along the way, many characters from the Ibis Trilogy come aboard, including Zachary Reid, a young American speculator in opium futures, and Shireen, the widow of an opium merchant whose mysterious death in China has compelled her to seek out his lost son. The Hind docks in Hong Kong just as war breaks out and opium "pours into the market like monsoon flood." From Bombay to Calcutta, from naval engagements to the decks of a hospital ship, among embezzlement, profiteering, and espionage, Amitav Ghosh charts a breathless course through the culminating moment of the British opium trade and vexed colonial history.
With all the verve of the first two novels in the trilogy, Flood of Fire completes Ghosh's unprecedented reenvisioning of the nineteenth-century war on drugs. With remarkable historic vision and a vibrant cast of characters, Ghosh brings the Opium Wars to bear on the contemporary moment with the storytelling that has charmed readers around the world.
Ghosh's final novel in his Ibis trilogy (after 2008's Sea of Poppies and 2011's River of Smoke) is set during the First Opium War in China, from 1839 to 1841. Ghosh's cast of characters is lengthy, and many change identities; relationships and events begun in the first two books are referred to frequently here. Sorting out who is who can be confusing, especially if the reader is not familiar with the other two novels. Still, Ghosh's firm grasp of the British empire's war with China over opium imports is colorful and insightful, and ultimately a powerful indictment of European imperial arrogance, using force to secure economic concessions from a Chinese dynasty. Havildar Kesri Singh is an Indian sepoy (soldier) in the East India Company Army, sent to China with his officer, Captain Neville Mee, as part of the British campaign to force the Chinese to pay reparations, allow opium imports, open free trade ports, and cede Hong Kong. An immoral American sailor, Zachary Reid, sees riches in the opium trade, partnering with a rich businessman while bedding his wife, later blackmailing her, destroying her marriage, and causing untold grief to others. Woven throughout are historical depictions of British imperialism and duplicity, the Indian caste system, the tragic suffering and the tremendous profits in war, European-Asian enmity, and grim portrayals of vicious naval and land battles in which cannon and bayonets inflict slaughter. This is an excellent history of the First Opium War, and a fitting capstone to Ghosh's trilogy.