My rating: 3 of 5 stars
**Thank you to Bloomsbury for providing me a digital ARC of this novel via Netgalley for the purposes of review**
*2.75/5 <– really only just under 3*
I previously encountered Natasha Pulley as a storytelling through her wonderful debut, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, which I found to be surprising, delightful, and entertaining. Needless to say I was quite excited to go into The Bedlam Stacks; I was expecting that same charm, that pleasant surprise I experience with Watchmaker.
But it never really came.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of great things about Bedlam. Pulley’s ability to spin a tale of magical realism is never in question within this novel, and there’s more than one hint of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness about the whole thing. And yet the story feels overdrawn, overlong — despite clocking in under 350 pages — and rather one-note. Things reach a certain emotional pitch and never diverge from that place. I suppose one could argue that’s part of the atmosphere of the novel, but it does little to invest me, as a reader, in what’s happening to our protagonist, Merrick Tremayne.
And despite some interesting moments of mysticism and religion that tie into the aforementioned magical realism, Bedlam ultimately leads to very little. Everything just sort of…ends. It fizzles out, reminding me of the memorable quote from Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight:
You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.
This book ultimately became it’s own villain, as it probably could have done with a little more to punch up the ending and make sure the threads it began spinning actually lead to something (worthwhile) at the end.