The Ibis Trilogy is a work of historical fiction by Amitav Ghosh, set in India, China and places between in the 19th century leading up to the first Opium War. It is also, by the way, brilliant!
In 1838, the Ibis, a two-masted schooner, arrives on the east coast of India. A former blackbirder, a slave ship, the Ibis is not swift enough to evade the British Navy ships on the west coast of Africa now that the slave trade has been abolished. The new owners of the Ibis plan to put her to a new use – shipping opium from India to China. The Ibis, then, is about to begin her second life, and she is not the only one.
In 1838, Frederick ‘Fitcher’ Penrose, an English plant-hunter, sails into in Port Louis, Mauritius and heads straight for the botanical gardens. What he finds is a discarded ruin, but perhaps there is an opportunity to pinch some plants from here. He soon finds he is not alone. He catches a young man, tending to some plants. The man says he is Paul Lambert, nephew of the late French botanist Pierre Lambert. But Fitcher isn’t fooled for he knew Pierre Lambert and recognises this ‘man’ as Paulette Lambert, Pierre’s daughter.
Neel, the deposed Raja and escaped convict, is still living in Guangzhou but is now in need of new employment while still haunted by the loss of his family. The growing possibility of war with Britain means that a man with Neel’s knowledge is valuable to those in China who make their trade in diplomacy and intelligence gathering. It is said the coming conflict in China will usher in a new era in warfare; where war will be fought by corporations rather than governments and the rewards could be very lucrative.