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on 10 April 2017
Tedious and long-winded and, at times, overly complicated. I persevered with this book because I don't like giving up on a read and it's something I rarely do - but one this occasion it crossed my mind on a few occasions. There's very little in the way of a story to warrant the length of this book - sure, the insight into the whole opium trade was interesting but again, way too long for almost no story. I had high expectations as I like historical fiction but this didn't cut it for me.
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on 13 January 2016
Even better than Sea of Poppies (and that's saying something!), set in the run-up to the first opium war in 1839, with an Indian Parsee opium trader caught up in the politicking between the East India Company, trying to foist their most profitable product on China, while the Chinese government tries to enforce a widely flouted ban on it. The historical background is impeccably researched, with the narrative carefully woven into the historical facts. Genuine historical figures speak with words they genuinely used, which Ghosh has dug up from original sources, while his fictional characters, as usual, speak in varieties of English that must themselves have taken some serious research to reproduce as beautifully as Ghosh has (you may however want to have a copy of the Hobson-Jobson to hand to check the exact meanings of some of the terms they use).
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on 1 May 2015
I read ‘River of Smoke’ in 2012 - within days of its publication and just forty eight hours after I had finished reading ‘Sea of Poppies.’ How frustrated I was then because - busy bee - I had to wait another thirty six hours before I could turn its covers and read it. I confess this just added to my anticipation and by the time I began it was as exciting a prospect as the start of a fabulous holiday. What a shame it only lasted a couple of days but that was because, like its prequel, the book was impossible to put down. The same characters were quickly reintroduced and joined by a host of new ones and the Bhojpuri vernacular and lascar slang gave way to Mauritian Creole and Anglo-Chinese Pidgin. Now the long wait for the third installment - 'Flood of Fire' - promises to be almost at an end. The suspense is growing daily!
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on 21 November 2012
have to say that at first i found this a little dissappointing after 'the sea of poppies'. i loved that...loved the completely mixed group of people on the ship, loved the lascars language, loved the moveble feast. but...i knew this was a trilogy about the opium wars...so it had to stop travelling, and get centered in canton and the despicable trade.
when i was at university i studied chinese civilization as an outside course, and i wrote an essay entitled 'the opium wars. the most indefensible conflict in british history. discuss.' well...here is the discusson! it is actually so well written it makes you angry...especially as for years afterwards the chinese were portrayed at the perpertrators of opium dens...when it was the british who caused them. sorry to go about the history...but this novel is so fresh that it seems like its just happened.
and yet there is so much more here...some of the letters from ralph to puggly actually made me laugh out loud. you just cant but feel sorry for mr moddie, not that he is an innocent..but he is an indian, and also ground down. and the whole passage about meeting napoleon on st helena..bloody magic. this is a huge book...it encompasses the history of the whole time, but told through people who are small players. i suggest you just download it...and read it after the sea of poppies.,..though it stand up well enough on its own, its nice to have background.
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on 6 December 2013
This is the second book in Amitav Ghosh's IBIS trilogy. I have to say, I wasn't over-impressed by the first book (Sea of Poppies). At times the characterisations and plot felt a bit contrived and clichéd. Nevertheless I decided to persevere with the second book and I'm very glad I did!

River of Smoke begins with an update on some of the main characters from Sea of Poppies but then focuses on just a couple of them (mainly Neel, the deposed Raja and Pauline Lambert, the young French botanist). It also introduces some brilliant new characters and moves the action from India to Canton where it exposes the horrific extent of the English "trade" in opium. Ghosh spares us no gory detail and paints a truly awful image of both the extent to which British Traders were prepared to go to protect their illicit trade and the destructive effect on the Chinese people.

I thought the characterisations were much stronger than in Sea of Poppies. Particularly well-developed are two of the new characters, Seth Bahram Modi, who is caught between wanting to live a good religious life and yet continue to provide for his family through trading opium, and the enigmatic Robin Chinnery, whose letters manage to both evoke the conversational ease and joviality with which we might write to friends whilst containing a wealth of historical detail. In fact the historical detail is another great strength of the book and has clearly been painstakingly researched yet is (almost) always seamlessly integrated so as not to appear like an ad-hoc history lesson tacked onto the novel.

There are initially several different strings to the plot as we follow the characters' journeys to Canton. But eventually they all weave together rather cleverly. I have no doubt that Ghosh will work out how to link the story back to the other initial characters in the final instalment (Flood of Fire, due early 2015) and I can't wait to read what happens.
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on 2 August 2015
Can't fault it; I accidentally read this before Sea of Poppies, which is the first in the trilogy. But this hasn't affected my understanding of the story, so it can be read as a stand-alone book. The descriptions are excellent, the story is interesting but complicated. I would recommend reading a good chunk of the book at one time at the beginning so that you can begin to follow all the threads that make up this story. The complexity of the story definitely adds to its fascination, so this is not a negative point. You really want to know and care what happens to the all the characters in the story.

Now, I can't wait to go back and read Sea of Poppies!
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on 27 July 2013
A great read, but not as good IMHO as its predecessor 'Sea of Poppies'. I wanted to know what had happened to all the characters we left at the end of Sea of Poppies, but River of Smoke didn't follow them all up - only one or two, with somewhat frustrating hints about what might have happened next to the others. However I shall definitely read the third in the series when it appears, and hope all loose ends will be tied up then. Some people dislike or struggle with Ghosh's use of 'fancy' language in places that may be harder to understand, but I love the way he exploits arcane words and dialect for some of his characters, revelling in the sheet exuberance of the words - which in the context, are not actually hard to understand. A terrific writer.
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on 30 August 2016
Carries on where Sea Of Poppies left off and takes the reader on a spectacular historical journey across the globe and into the middle of the nineteenth century where the same cast of characters play out their destinies against the backdrop of British imperialism in the Far East. A totally satisfying and sprawling almost Dickensian tome of a novel which may cause the reader to develop bed sores......
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on 17 May 2012
I bought River of Smoke after I'd read Sea of Poppies, which I loved. I was not diappointed. If anything, River of Smoke consumed me even more. Amitav Ghosh is a truly wonderful writer. As a writer myself, I can only be in awe of the fact that every facet of his writing excels: All the characters are wonderfully drawn, allowing us to empathise with rogues as well as heroes. Historically, the quality of information is encyclopaedial and written in such a way that it is never tedious, always an eye-opening journey into the past, in this case the run-up to the Opium Wars. Ghosh manages to show us the appalling greed and lack of humanity of the Imperialist traders through their eyes, which makes it even more shocking. I've been recommending this book and Sea of Poppies to anyone and everyone.
I can't wait to get my hands on the third volume of the trilogy when it's published.
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on 22 July 2015
Loving this book which is the second part of the Ibis trilogy. Well written against an exotic background in terms of time and place(s) and very difficult to put down. I will definitely be purchasing the 3rd part so I know how the story ends but just wish it wasn't priced so high (but then Amazon will know you're hooked by the point!). Wouldn't surprise me at all if it doesn't become a film or TV mini-series in due course.
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