Three years after the Ibis left readers wondering what happened to the passengers she set sail with in Sea of Poppies, Amitav Ghosh returns to narrate what happens next, in the second book — River of Smoke — of his Ibis Trilogy.
The story moves to Canton in China, where the tales of known and new faces, are woven into a fascinating build-up to the Opium Wars. The Ibis, carrying her load of convicts and indentured labourers from Calcutta to Mauritius, gets caught in a storm that blows up the Indian Ocean. When the seas settle, five men have disappeared from the passengers. Did the same storm upend the fortunes of those aboard the Anahita, an opium carrier heading towards Canton? And what fate befell those aboard the Redruth, a sturdy two-masted brig heading east out of Cornwall? Was it the storm that altered their course or were the destinies of these passengers at the mercy of even more powerful forces?
On the grand scale of a historical epic, River of Smoke follows its storm-tossed characters to harbours of China, where they struggle to cope with their losses — and, for some, unimaginable freedoms — in the alleys and crowded waterways of 19th century Canton.