Flood of Fire, Amitav Ghosh

Flood of Fire is the culmination of the least trilogy-like trilogy that ever trilogied, Amitav Ghosh’s The Ibis Trilogy, of which the first two were Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke (both excellent). In  the sense that it got the band back together (sort of) and shifted the reader into the early days of the Opium Wars (about which I really will learn more soon!), it was a superb conclusion to the trilogy. In the sense that it pinged some ick sensors of mine, it was my least favorite of the series.

Flood of Fire

Do you remember that feeling when you were a kid and you would read a book that was too old for you in some way? Where you didn’t fully know why it was upsetting you, but you had that icky feeling where you just wanted to be away from the book? Did y’all experience that as kids? My memory of that feeling is why I feel so confident in kids’ ability to self-censor, so I hope it’s at least somewhat universal.

Anyway, I am a grown-up now, so I mostly don’t feel that feeling anymore. When I feel it now, it’s very often because a book starts leading up to predatory sexual practices. (At least, the last two books that gave me this feeling did it by leading up to predatory sexual practices.) Flood of Fire made me feel that way. (Lolita didn’t, but I was, of course, forewarned.) In the end, nothing as bad as what I was imagining happened, but the feeling lingered.

To be more specific, and a bit spoilery for some things that happen in the middle of the book: A white lady becomes overinterested in the onanistic tendencies of a mixed-race man in her employment and keeps asking him to come to her bedroom to discuss, you know, that. And that is a situation so fraught with badness that if it hadn’t been a book I’ve anticipated for years, I’d have stopped reading.

As with the rest of the series, though, Flood of Fire is kaleidoscopic in scope and more vivid than any other historical novel I’ve read. The people from the Ibis come back together in unexpected and tragic and joyful ways, and that was immensely satisfying. But I’ll probably reread the first two oftener.

Did you have that feeling ever, when you were a kid reading books? Have any of those books stuck with you?

  • Kristen M.

    Hello VC Andrews books! I read a few of them in junior high and was not ready for some of the content. I can’t think of any others right now. My reading otherwise was pretty tame — standard kid fare and classics.

    • Oh, yeah, my reading was VERY tame. And I never read a single word by VC Andrews! The covers didn’t appeal.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Oh sigh, I still haven’t managed to read the second book in the trilogy yet. I do know that icky feeling though, I got it when I was a kid too though I can only recall the feeling and not the books that inspired it.

    • The second one’s good, but I did also find it a little frustrating that the characters were scattered so widely. It’s fun to see them come back together in this book.

  • I have been looking for series books that were also grand in scale and this just fits the bill. Somehow I had forgotten about this trilogy which makes me glad because now I feel happy to rediscover this series.

  • anna

    hm. I don’t remember an ick feeling. I more tended to gloss right over the existence of these things and not notice them until I was old enough. But I was much more suspicious of new books than you. Mostly when I read something too old for me, it was too old as in boring because I was too young to understand it properly. For instance, The Chosen, I was definitely too young first time around and really glad school made me reread it when I was old enough.

    • How old were you when you first read The Chosen? (What a great book.)

      • anna

        Between 5th and 6th grade. Which I don’t think is automatically too young, I just think for me I was too young.

  • Jeanne

    My “icky” feeling was closer to fear, and always came from reading a book that was too adult because it had something that scared me. I read adult books all the time and things went over my head, but if someone was tortured or turned into a vampire or called up after death, I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well for the next few weeks.

    • Oh, yeah, I definitely stopped reading a few books because they were too scary. But like, I remember reading this book when I was ten (it was a gift) about a kid who had been (I think?) sexually abused and was considering suicide, and I got that icky feeling so strongly I threw the book away in the garbage. I wish I could remember literally ANYTHING about that book apart from how it made me feel, so I could look it up and see how it reads to an adult.

  • I did get that ick feeling once or twice, but usually I didn’t even get that far. I agree that kids are very good at censoring themselves. Either they avoid the things they’re not ready for or they misinterpret them. I saw that with my brother (who’s 13 years younger than me) as well.

    • Yeah! I mean I know that I was a very obedient and law-abiding child. Maybe if I’d been older and had access to the internet to find things out, I’d have done less book-abandoning and more figuring out what the characters were on about.

  • Sharry Cee

    Hmm. I had to google “onanistic” and then the ick factor did set in. I read Lolita before I even knew what it was about (back in my “reading through the classics” phase) and that was in high school and I got tons of icks from that. But after reading it (flipping quickly more like) through it, there was a lot of material for discussion so in some way that made up for it. As for any icky things I might have read in childhood, if I did, I don’t really remember. I must have blanked them out of my mind…

    • Ahahah, I love the word onanistic. Have you read Tom Stoppard’s play “Arcadia”? There’s a part where the tutor is explaining what “carnal embrace” is to his young student:

      THOMASINA: Is it a sin?

      SEPTIMUS: Not necessarily, my lady, but when carnal embrace is sinful it is a sin of the flesh, QED. We had caro in our Gallic Wars – ‘The Britons live on milk and meat’ – ‘lacte et carne vivunt’. I am sorry that the seed fell on stony ground.

      THOMASINA: That was the sin of Onan, wasn’t it, Septimus?

      SEPTIMUS: Yes. He was giving his brother’s wife a Latin lesson and she was hardly the wiser after it than before.

      Ahahahaha, Tom Stoppard.

      • MumsyNK

        Tom Stoppard, STOP! That is so clever that l almost missed it while READING. I can never go see a Stoppard play.

      • No I haven’t read this play!! But I just googled it and the first bit of the exchange came up in which this Septimus fellow says it is “the practice of throwing one’s arms around a side of beef”. Sounds like a delightful play 😛

  • Aarti

    I started the first book in this series and really enjoyed the writing style but somehow could not motivate myself to read more of it. Not the fault of the book, I just seem to be in a year-long reading funk. I shall try again, though keep the ick factor in mind.

    • Aw. Well, and do keep in mind, the ick factor is relatively minor, and it doesn’t (mostly) end up being icky in the way that I really feared it would. So.

  • I’m so excited to read this, but I’ve forgotten so much about the first two books that I think I need to reread those first. Proper Jenny and I have talked about rereading them together and then reading this one. If this one is a little less good, that’s all the more reason to revisit the first two, so that pleasure will be fresh in our minds.

  • Alley

    I vaguely remember that ick feeling. I more remember just not getting things. Or rather, I don’t remember not getting them. Instead I’ll read something now I know I read when I was younger and realize all this stuff sailed over my head.

    • Hahaha, yes, there’s a lot of that when I reread adult books I read for the first time as a kid. The trickiest thing is that I would often think “there’s something I’m missing here,” and actually, there WASN’T. Like when I reread Harriet the Spy, the adult characters still act like lunatics. It wasn’t something that made more sense as I grew up. Louise Fitzhugh writes adult characters who are lunatics.

  • Delia (Postcards from Asia)

    I’ve only read one book by Amitav Ghosh but always meant to read more. The Glass Palace was enjoyable. Not sure if I’m ready for a trilogy, though.

  • I’ve had this series recommended to me a few times, I’m not certain I want to read it now.

    I never had that exact feeling, the ick feeling, but I did have the ‘I’m missing something here’ feeling when I would read an adult book as a child. It’s made for some interesting re-reads.