River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh (India) is the sequel to his 2009 Sea of Poppies, which I read and posted on in January of 2010. I liked The Sea of Poppies a lot. It is set in the late 1830s, starting out in Calcutta and on the banks of the Ganges River. This work has a kind of old fashioned feel to it. The completed trilogy will run to over 1500 pages. There are a large number of characters, there is a lot of historical detail, there are a lot of unfamiliar terms used from slang of the period relating to the opium trade, seafaring and caste issues, and there are multiple plot threads open. Most of the characters have hidden aspects in their past. We see the near highest levels of wealth and the depth of poverty. Most of Sea of Poppies is devoted to introducing the people who will be on the ship the Ibis (the trilogy is called The Ibis Trilogy) when it sails to Mauritius, a very remote isolated island in the Indian Ocean.
River of Smoke is an odd kind of sequel. When Sea of Poppies came to a close we were left at a cliffhanging place in the narrative and the lives of the central characters, they are on a ship during a terrible storm in the Indian ocean. River of Smoke focuses not so much on the people on the one ship but on those in two other ships that are also caught up in the storm.
The book is really almost a history lesson about the effects of the Opium trade and about 100 + other things. The author has a PhD in cultural anthropology from Oxford and there is a huge amount to be learned from his book. I was fascinated to read the description of plant hunters in China.
I will say this book was not as exciting as Sea of Poppies but if you would enjoy a massive historical novel set in India and China in the middle of the 19th century, I do not think you will find a better researched, more information packed and better written pair of books than Sea of Poppies and River of Smoke.
I guess the final work in the trilogy will be out in 2013 or 2014 and I am sure Ghosh will tie all of the loose ends together in the final novel.