Flood of Fire


Even though I greatly enjoyed the first two volumes of Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, I was a little apprehensive about reading the final one because I was afraid that the author wouldn’t be able to maintain the brilliance of this monumental work.

Unfortunately my concerns proved to be well founded. For despite the occasional flashes of the author’s trademark sparkling prose, the book ends with a melodramatic whimper rather than an earth-shattering climax. Without giving too much of the plot away, Ghosh would have been much better off focusing on the corruption and hypocrisy of the self-styled free traders and the suffering of the Indian soldiers rather than trying to fashion a tawdry and unconvincing affair between two of the characters.

Having got that off my chest, I would say that if you have any interest in British colonial history you should definitely read the book. Ghosh does a wonderful job of capturing the shocking blend of greed and self-righteousness that drove the opium traders to enlist the military might of the British Empire to force the Chinese court to allow the drug to be imported into their country. This was truly one of the most shameful events in all of British history.

The author also provides some enthralling descriptions of the life of Indian sepoys serving in the British Army, who made up the majority of the expeditionary force sent to fight in the First Opium War. Ghosh is masterful in conjuring up their conflicted feelings at having to battle against a people that they themselves had no quarrel with on behalf of an empire that treated them so poorly.

Although it doesn’t quite meet the standards set by Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, Flood of Fire is an extraordinary achievement. It will be interesting to see what subject the author turns to next after spending over a decade on the Ibis trilogy.

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