Flood of Fire

Written by Amitav Ghosh
Review by Edward James

The adjective which springs most readily to mind on reading this book is ‘vast’ – or perhaps I should spell it V – A – S – T. It is not just long (the third in a trilogy of equally long books) but its sweep is immense, taking in first all of India, then the Indian Ocean and then China. There are scores of characters, princes and peasants, sepoys and nabobs, Indians and Asians, several interweaving plots, violent battles, erotic encounters, storms at sea, everything. The comparison with War and Peace is inescapable. If nobody has yet called Ghosh the Tolstoy of India, I am happy to be the first.

The saga begins in India in the 1830s and culminates in China in the First Opium War (1840-41). This is not the India of the British Raj but John Company’s India, the strange world of a subcontinent ruled by a private trading company. It helps to have read the earlier books in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke, but if you can find time for only one, I am sure you will enjoy this.