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Félix J. Palma – The Map of Time

June 27, 2011

82. The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma, translated by Nick Caistor (original 2008; US publication 2011)

Length: 612 pages
Genre: Equal parts Historical Fiction and Science Fiction, with a dose of Romance and Mystery and Steampunk thrown in for good measure.

Started: 13 June 2011
Finished: 19 June 2011

Where did it come from? From Atria Books for review.
Why do I have it? It was the cover that drew me in, honestly: it looks all dark and mysterious and Victorian and steampunky (all of which the novel delivered, and more). With the promise of time travel and parallel universes and literary history, I was thoroughly sold.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 16 May 2011.

If time travel were
real, would you see what waits in
your past? Or future?

Summary: The Map of Time is a series of three interconnected stories, set in Victorian London just after the publication of H. G. Wells’s novel The Time Machine. Sparked by Wells’s fiction, the possibilities of time travel have caught the public imagination… and now it seems that such a thing may be more than just fiction, as a company has recently opened that offers fabulously expensive sightseeing trips to the year 2000. Andrew Harrington, the young scion of a wealthy family, wants nothing more than use the new time travel device to travel back through time and save the life of his lover, a Whitechapel whore murdered by Jack the Ripper. Claire Haggerty feels out of place in the society of her own time, so books passage onto an expedition to the year 2000, where she falls in love with a man from the future, despite knowing that they can never be together. And H. G. Wells himself: the author meant his story more as satiric commentary on society than a scientific treatise, and does not believe that time travel really exists… until he becomes involved in a series of murders, murders that could only have been committed by someone from the future, someone with an uncanny and inexplicable knowledge of Wells and his work.

Review: This book was wonderful. Wonderful. Intricate, almost labyrinthine, beautifully written, and stunningly constructed. It flows effortlessly through genres, starting out like pure historical fiction, but then it becomes steampunk, romance, mystery, and science fiction in turns, so smoothly and so subtly that you barely notice the transitions. Each of its three separate stories could, with a few tweaks, stand more-or-less on its own, but they’re woven together so neatly and perfectly that the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. And the ending… no spoilers here, but I will say that this ending is one of the most perfectly constructed that I’ve ever come across, just a wonderful summation of everything that has come before it, something that fits the story and its characters and its themes together so completely and so beautifully that I was actually left with tears in my eyes at how right it all was.

The book did have a few (very minor) flaws. In general I found the prose absolutely beautiful – kudos for that not only to Mr. Palma, but also his translator – but it does use the device of having the omniscient narrator speaking directly to the reader, which was mostly used to good effect but occasionally felt a little intrusive. The second section (and some details from the third) were very reminiscent of The Time Traveler’s Wife. I can’t tell whether it was convergence, homage, or copying, and I certainly enjoyed the story, but the similarities left me a little uncomfortable. Finally, the third section of the story was by far the most complex and convoluted, yet it felt rather rushed relative to the more leisurely unfolding of the more straightforward stories that preceded it.

However, those are all minor, minor points in light of how much I enjoyed this book. It’s a book that rewards close attention and careful reading by sweeping you away into the fantastic, complicated, and ultimately intensely satisfying world that Palma creates. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Highly, highly recommended. I think there’s something here for most readers; historical fiction fans and sci-fi fans especially will love it, even if they’re not a particular reader of the other genre.

Andrew’s father prided himself on having built up a decent library, yet his cousin’s collection contained more tha just obscure volumes on politics and equally dull subjects. Here, Andrew could find the classics and adventure stories by authors such as Verne and Salgari, but still more interesting to Andrew was a strange, rather picturesque type of literature many considered frivolous – novels where the authors had let their imaginations run wild, regardless of how implausible or often downright absurd the outcome. […] These flights of fancy reminded Andrew of pop guns or firecrackers, all sound and fury, and yet he understood, or thought he did, why his cousin was so passionate about them. Somehow this literary genre, which most people condemned, acted as a sort of counterbalance to Charles’s soul; it was the ballast that prevented him from lurching into seriousness or melancholy, unlike Andrew, who had been unable to adopt his cousin’s casual attitude to life, and to whom everything seemed so achingly profound, imbued with that absurd solemnity that the transience of existence conferred upon even the smallest act. –p. 22-23

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: BookLust, Chasing Bawa, Fantasy Book Critic, Killin’ Time Reading, She Reads Novels, What She Read
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Andrew Harrington would have gladly died several times over if that meant not having to choose just one pistol from among his father’s vast collection in the living room cabinet.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 553: “… witnessing historic naval battles, witches being burnt at the stake, and fecundating the bellies of Egyptian whores and slave girls…” – to impregnate or fertilize. (I figured this one out on my own, since I knew the word “fecund,” but I’d never seen it used as a verb before.)

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25 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2011 9:09 am

    I think you enjoyed this book almost as much as I did. I didn’t enjoy the third part as much as the first too as I felt it wasn’t as fully realised, but like you said, it’s a very minor quibble. Lovely review!

    • June 29, 2011 8:46 am

      sakura – Agreed; I would have happily read an even longer book to have given that third part a little more space to breathe.

  2. June 27, 2011 9:37 am

    Fantastic review; truly. I have seen this book around, and I have been curious, but until I read your review I was not curious enough to put it on my list. I appreciate your thoughts on the minor things that bothered you; gives me perspective for not expecting perfection. :)

    • June 29, 2011 8:57 am

      ibeeeg – Nope, it’s not perfect, nor is it going to be to everyone’s taste, but it fit my style and my mood and was just wonderful. I hope you get the chance to check it out!

  3. June 27, 2011 11:24 am

    Thanks! I love the sound of this one and am putting it on my wish list!

  4. June 27, 2011 6:37 pm

    This does sound like an intersting book.

    • June 29, 2011 8:59 am

      celawerd – It was! There was so much involved that it could have gone horribly, horribly wrong, but it wound up working together perfectly.

  5. June 27, 2011 9:05 pm

    I don’t usually go for sci fi, but your review makes me think I would really like this book, so I am definitely going to download a sample.

    • June 29, 2011 9:01 am

      Lola – This book is supremely hard to classify into a genre, but I’d say that it’s at least equal parts historical fiction and sci-fi, if not slightly closer to HF. Have you read The Time Traveler’s Wife? This one is only a little more “sci-fi-ish” than that.

  6. June 28, 2011 10:24 pm

    i’ve been hearing a lot of positive buzz about this one, and your review makes me want to read it even more!

    • June 29, 2011 9:03 am

      Redhead – I’ve seen a few mixed reviews, and I can see how the style wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. But there’s a *lot* of folks like me who loved it, so I say go for it!

  7. June 29, 2011 12:04 pm

    I mustmustmust get my hands on this! I’m #9 on my library’s wait list, so I have my fingers crossed that they process it quickly and that everyone in front of me is a fast reader.

    • July 1, 2011 10:26 am

      Memory – I’d offer to loan you my copy by mail, but from what I’ve heard about the Canadian postal system, I think you might be better off waiting for your library. I hope they get it soon, though, because I think you’re going to love it!

  8. June 29, 2011 9:17 pm

    Thank you for this great review! I was just commenting on another review of this book today (which the reader hadn’t enjoyed much), and I was saying how I hadn’t been convinced yet to give this one a chance. But I’m thinking your review just did the trick! It sounds like I MUST read it now.

    • July 1, 2011 10:27 am

      kay – I have seen some mixed reactions, but I’m definitely not the only one in the head-over-heels camp, either. I hope you love it too!

  9. June 30, 2011 7:02 pm

    I’m impressed by the author using HG Wells and his books as background for a novel not originally written in English!

    This sounds fascinating – it’s a wonderful title, too.

    • July 1, 2011 10:29 am

      Ela – I had that same thought originally, but then I realized that of course classics like that are going to be available in translation, and a Spanish author setting their historical fiction in England is no different than an English author setting their historical fiction in Spain. :)

  10. July 6, 2011 5:01 pm

    I just got this book in the mail today and can not wait to read it!!! Isn’t the cover gorgeous and the inside spread amazing. Glad you liked it!!

    • July 11, 2011 12:24 pm

      Amanda – The cover is great, even ignoring my penchant for shiny things. So pretty, and so suited to the book!

  11. July 11, 2011 11:15 am

    I really liked this one too. I haven’t read The Time Traveler’s Wife, so I wouldn’t have been able to catch any similarities.

    • July 11, 2011 12:26 pm

      Alyce – I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you this, but TTTW is amazingly good, and well worth reading. It’s the same idea of the second part, with each member of a couple living through their relationship in a different order.

  12. July 13, 2011 3:38 pm

    I enjoyed this one too. The ending is worth hanging in there for and he does a great job of pulling everything together.

  13. Hi:-) permalink
    October 31, 2012 9:39 pm

    I am right now in the middle of it and am quite enjoying it.


  1. Fantasy Round-Up: June 27, 2011 « The Tattered Scroll

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