I'm now reading the book "Sea of Poppies" by Amitav Ghosh and really like it. I like it so much that after having read the first one hundred pages, I found it so entertaining that I went back and read it all over again just in case I might have missed something (I did and maybe I should reread it again).
The backdrop of the book takes place during The Opium Wars of the eighteen hundreds, and the way the author writes pulls you into the story with such force that it's like you are walking right next to the characters and seeing stuff they see. Take the following excerpt for instance and upon reading it close your eyes and imagine you are there:
"The town was small, just a few blocks of houses that faded away into a jumble of shacks, shanties and other hut-houses; beyond, the path wound through dense patches of forest and towering, tangled thickets of sugar cane. The surrounding hills and crags were of strange, twisted shapes; they sat upon the plains like a bestiary of gargantuan animals that had been frozen in the act of trying to escape from the the grip of the earth."
Trying to follow the language of the so-called lascars (crew members onboard the ship) is sometimes frustrating, but if you need a helping hand with the strange slang you might want to print out the Ibis Chrestomathy and keep it on hand while reading the book.
On the one hand you have God playing with opium and using it as an instrument of fate, and on the other hand you have a list of characters entangled in a web of complexities and deception.