After his epic Ibis trilogy, a rip-roaring, hugely detailed imagining of the Opium Wars, the Indian writer Amitav Ghosh turns his hand to ''cli-fi'' — ''climate fiction.''

Gun Island blends Bengali folklore, the historical and present-day links between India and Venice, climate change, the refugee crisis, the power of storytelling and the supernatural in a tale that sometimes wobbles under the weight of such a load.

Dinanath Datta, known as Deen, is a seller of rare books living in New York City, who on a trip home to India humors an old aunt by taking a trip to the Sundarbans, the vast mangrove forest that lies on the Bay of Bengal.

Knowing his interest in Bengali folklore, she had entreated him to visit a shrine she remembered glimpsing there, dedicated to the ''Bonduki Sadagar,'' or The Gun Merchant.

Legend told how the Bonduki Sadagar was chased across strange lands by the snake goddess Manasa Devi, whom he had angered, meeting all manner of calamities until he was saved by a miraculous intervention of nature and returned home a rich man.
 The bookish Deen, initially reluctant about the trip, becomes fascinated by what he discovers and begins picking apart the clues in the legend that reveal it could be a true story. Meanwhile, strange events and coincidences — and a preponderance of venomous beasties — start encroaching on his life, shaking his faith in himself as “a rational, secular, scientifically minded person”. [MORE SCROLL DOWN]
The marine biologist named Priya (a character from Ghosh’s 2004 cli-fi novel The Hungry Tide) tells him there is a logical explanation for deadly spiders in Venice and yellow-bellied sea snakes off Venice Beach in Los Angeles; climate change is pushing these creatures to more northerly regions.

But his old friend Cinta, an Italian professor of history, believes in more supernatural causes and that stories from the past contain something “elemental and inexplicable” that can be unleashed.

Through her, Deen starts to see the parallels between the tale of the Bonduki Sadagar and our present day – how the 17th-century merchant’s world was being rocked by the climatic disturbances of the Little Ice Age, and how this ancient traveller’s voyage has much in common with those being made by the refugees flocking to Europe.

Called to Venice to help a documentary-maker make contact with the many Bengalis now in the Italian seaside and canal-linedcity, Deen is plunged into the middle of the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, as all eyes turn to one overcrowded boat that the Italian government has vowed to refuse a safe port.

Flitting across continents, Ghosh deftly summons up a pungent sense of place, whether in the mangrove swamps of Bengal or the misty, cobbled streets of Venice. The past lurks convincingly in the present.

However, you can’t help feeling bashed over the head by all the talk of cyclones, wildfires, oceanic dead zones, dolphin beachings and flooding crises.

And with such a host of characters representing opinions or merely in place to move the plot along, the narrative, and particularly the dialogue, are often stilted.

As such, sadly, ''Gun Island'' is more a fusillade of
finger-wagging than a display of sniper-like precision.

Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh, 

312 pages