Amitav Ghosh has really put in his time and effort into this one. Sea of Poppies is a bit complex with a set of diverse, yet well defined characters. Set in opium-ridden India of 1830's, the novel revolves around the lives of characters from various parts and social classes and how all their lives get interlinked.
The novel portrays Deeti, a farmer woman and wife of a drug-addict, as the major character at first but soon introduces a lot of characters. An American sailor, a lascar leader, a gigantic and brawny but humble ox-cart rider, a rude and arrogant first mate, a Chinese drug addict, a zemindar of an Indian province, a French orphan girl, her foster brother and a pervert ship owner are among the major characters. One gets the feeling that Ghosh has probably taken too much into his hands and that there are way too many important characters in it for a 500 page novel. The reader's patience is also tried as he introduces character after character, along with complete and detailed descriptions of the scene and surroundings. But the pain is brief as the characters, being so different from each other, soon stick with the reader and as the plot moves forward, the reader comes to appreciate Ghosh for the way he has wonderfully handled all the characters keeping in mind that this book is the first of a trilogy. As it happens with books that come as a part of a series, the reader tends to not associate the current book to the previous ones if there is a whole new cast of characters in each book. But Ghosh carefully uses his characters and doesn't introduce any "useless" character in his novel. He also intentionally leaves a few loose ends that keeps the reader pondering at the end of the novel and looking forward to the next one.
From his elaborate portrayal of various scenes in the novel, it is clear that a lot of research has gone into the making of the novel. He has gone the extra mile to give the reader the vivid mental picture of each scene. Also, his use of small poems in the middle of the text gives the reader a break from the prose and keeps one engrossed in the novel.
Overall, I found it a very interesting read and I sure look forward to the next one in the trilogy.