Félix J. Palma – The Map of Time
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
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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