Scott's Reviews > River of Smoke

River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh
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's review
Jan 27, 2012

liked it
Read from January 17 to 26, 2012

This was the second in the Ibis Trilogy (following Sea of Poppies). I liked it, but a few of my favorite characters and story lines from Sea of Poppies were replaced by ones that did not grab my attention quite as easily. The story takes place just a few months later, but this time most of the action is in Canton. Because of this I find myself comparing River of Smoke with James Clavell's Taipan - both are historical fiction, both are set in Canton/HK circa 1840 and both revolve around the opium trade. But they come from opposite perspectives. Taipan lionizes the opium traders (one in particular) and turns them into heroes that you want to root for despite yourself. In contrast, River of Smoke regularly highlights the injustice and hypocrisy of the opium trade. At times it is a little overbearing, but it certainly must be the fairer representation. River of Smoke also has more of a historical feel, i.e. it's not as fictional. Ghosh incorporates several true historical persons and gives them dialogue that would be true to the character by researching and relying heavily on historical documents, e.g. newspaper articles, journals, speeches, etc. It was a nice touch and one that I did not realize until reading the acknowledgments at the end. It made me feel like I got a little more out of it, i.e. I learned a bit and that's never a bad thing.

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