Author: Felix J. Palma
Genre: Literary Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Historical, Victorian
Publisher: Atria (US)/Algaida (Spain)
Publication Date: June 2011 (US)/October 2008 (Spain)
Hardcover: 611 Pages
Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time boasts a triple-play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and thereby save the lives of an aristocrat in love with a murdered prostitute from the past; of a woman bent on fleeing the strictures of Victorian society; and of his very own wife, who may have become a pawn in a 4th-dimensional plot to murder the authors of Dracula, The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds, in order to alter their identities and steal their fictional creations.
But, what happens if we change history? Felix J. Palma raises such questions in The Map of Time. Mingling fictional characters with real ones, Palma weaves a historical fantasy as imaginative as it is exciting, a story full of love and adventure that also pays homage to the roots of science fiction while transporting its readers to a fascinating Victorian London for their own taste of time travel.
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel
How did I get this book: e-ARC via Galley Grab
Why did I read this book: Consider: the gorgeous cover, to which an entire website is devoted in explanation of the different elements; the glowing blurbs from every department at Atria, librarians, and international critics; the promise of a time travel story featuring a fitting hero, H.G. Wells.
The year is 1896, the place a dreary Victorian London. On this particular evening, the melancholy Andrew Harrington ruminates over which gun he should use to take his own life. So begins The Map of Time, a gargantuan novel told in three parts. In part the first, young lordling Harrington mourns the loss of his lover Marie Kelly, a common Whitechapel whore, eight years earlier. Because of Harrington’s cowardice, his beloved was murdered by notorious killer Jack the Ripper in that Year of Terror, 1888. Before the grieving Andrew can pull the trigger to end his misery, however, he is stopped by his dear cousin, Lord Charles Winslow. Winslow implores him to seek out help from one Mr. Gilliam Murphy, who has recently taken London by storm as he has devised a way to travel to the far future year 2000, in which London is devastated by vindictive automatons that have destroyed the planet and humanity’s last hope resides in a noble champion, Captain Derek Shackleton.1 Mr. Murphy is unable to help the depressed and suicidal young man as his method of time travel is restricted only to one day in the future year 2000 – though he does recommend Andrew visit famous author H.G. Wells, whom Murphy believes possesses a time machine with the ability to go both directions in the temporal plane. It is now, finally, that we are introduced to the protagonist of The Map of Time, in the small-framed figure of Herbert George Wells. Soon, the author finds himself caught up in the young Mr. Harrington’s dilemma, and agrees to help him on his quest through time to save his lost love.
The second part of The Map of Time tells the story of the vivacious Lady Claire Haggarty, a young woman who despises her station in life and longs for adventure. When she learns of Gilliam Murphy’s fantastical expeditions to the year 2000, offered to the rich for a pretty sum, Claire immediately knows that this is the opportunity she has longed for her entire life, and she concocts a plan to find a way to slip away from the caravan and find a new home in the war-torn future. Against all odds, Claire finds herself falling in love with the brave Captain Derek Shackleton, savior of the human race. Of course, things are never quite what they seem when time travel is involved, and H.G. Wells finds himself once again drawn into this story as he is commissioned by a young man to write letters to the lovely Claire, seemingly across the fabric of time and space.
The third part belongs to H.G. Wells himself, as he finally becomes the central character in his own story. A rash of murders breaks out in London, apparently caused by a future time traveler. It seems that Wells and two of his contemporaries Henry James, and Bram Stoker have been singled out by this mysterious figure – and Wells must stretch his considerable imagination and intellect if he is to discover the truth and survive.
Released to a flurry of glowing reviews and emblazoned with a number impressive descriptive quotations, The Map of Time is one of the most talked about books of the summer, spanning both literary speculative fiction circles. The problem with hype, however, is that the book – for some person, at some point – will not be able to stack up to those lofty expectations. While I generally liked the ideas behind The Map of Time, while the novel had moments of brilliance, overall it could not quite live up to the exuberant praise that preceded it. Which is not to say The Map of Time is a bad book, because it’s not. Rather, the novel simply fails to live up to its promise.
The first thing to note regarding the book is that rather than a true, linear story, The Map of TIme is more of a collection of three disparate stories that are only marginally tied together by the involvement of one dubious protagonist, Mr. H.G. “Bertie” Wells. Playing with some remarkable themes and ideas, The Map of Time has incredible potential and flashes of brilliance. While the novel begins slowly and stumbles through its first 200 pages or so (an experience only exacerbated by its focus on the rather unsympathetic character of Andrew Harrington), by the time Wells makes an appearance the novel begins to gather steam. Characters are not the strong suit of The Map of Time, but I did love the questions that were raised in both the first and second parts. The twin themes of deception and hope run through the book and are effectively related by Mr. Palma, though my favorite parts of the involved different characters challenging the nature of time travel, addressing its paradoxes and science from a unique and convincing Victorian perspective. There are also hoaxes and scams and surprises along the way, and all are carried out wonderfully. Unfortunately, the problems arise with the advent of the book’s third and final act, in which the author refutes the challenges to time travel and careful buildup of the first two parts and strays into cockamamie bad-Audrey-Niffenegger The Time Traveler’s Wife meets X-Men territory. Piling contrivance upon contrivance, I was mystified with the direction in which Mr. Palma decided to take his readers with the last 200 pages of the story – only adding to the already disjointed feel of the novel. Furthermore, I’m not exactly sure what the purpose of the story was, or if there was even meant to be one.
The other major stumbling block I came across whilst reading The Map of Time involved the writing style. While the translation is excellent (Lucia Graves worthy) and it is clear that Mr. Palma has formidable skill as a wordsmith, the manner of storytelling was wanting. So much of the novel is related in lengthy – and I mean lengthy, in the amount of 30+ pages – monologue speeches, with one character telling another about their marvelous exploits. I suppose that this is the best way to sum up the novel: in a word, The Map of Time is excessive. Excessive in terms of character speech, in terms of meaningless detail, and, most importantly, excessive in terms of page count. There are great ideas in the book, but buried beneath so much extraneous detail, it’s easy to get distracted.
Ultimately, The Map of Time is a book with an intriguing premise, momentary glimmers of brilliance, but fails to tie everything together in a cohesive package.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter One:
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. Decisions had never been Andrew’s strong point. On close examination, his life had been a series of mistaken choices, the last of them threatening to cast its lengthy shadow over the future. But that life of unedifying blunders was about to end. This time he was sure he had made the right decision, because he had decided not to decide. There would be no more mistakes in the future because there would be no more future. He was going to destroy it completely by putting one of those guns to his right temple. He could see no other solution: obliterating the future was the only way for him to eradicate the past.
He scanned the contents of the cabinet, the lethal assortment his father had lovingly set about assembling after his return from the war. He was fanatical about these weapons, though Andrew suspected it was not so much nostalgia that drove him to collect them as his desire to contemplate the novel ways mankind kept coming up with for taking one’s own life outside the law. In stark contrast to his father’s devotion, Andrew was impassive as he surveyed the apparently docile, almost humdrum implements that had brought thunder down to men’s fingertips and freed war from the unpleasantness of hand-to-hand combat. Andrew tried to imagine what kind of death might be lurking inside each of them, lying in wait like some predator. Which would his father have recommended he blow his brains out with? He calculated that death from one of those antiquated muzzle-loading flintlocks, which had to be refilled with gunpowder and a ball, then tamped down with a paper plug each time they were fired, would be a noble but drawn-out, tedious affair. He preferred the swift death guaranteed by one of the more modern revolvers nestling in their luxurious velvet-lined wooden cases. He considered a Colt Single Action revolver, which looked easy to handle and reliable, but discarded it when he remembered he had seen Buffalo Bill brandishing one in his Wild West Shows. A pitiful attempt to reenact his transoceanic exploits with a handful of imported Red Indians and a dozen lethargic, apparently opium-drugged buffalo. Death for him was not just another adventure. He also rejected a fine Smith & Wesson: that was the gun that had killed the outlaw Jesse James, of whom he considered himself unworthy, as well as a Webley revolver, specially designed to hold back the charging hordes in Britain’s colonial wars, which he thought looked too cumbersome. His attention turned next to his father’s favorite, a fine pepperbox with rotating barrels, but he seriously doubted whether this ridiculous, ostentatious-looking weapon would be capable of firing a bullet with enough force. Finally, he settled on an elegant 1870 Colt with mother-of-pearl inlays that would take his life with all the delicacy of a woman’s caress.
He smiled defiantly as he plucked it from the cabinet, remembering how often his father had forbidden him to meddle with his pistols. But the illustrious William Harrington was in Italy at that moment, no doubt reducing the Fontana de Trevi to a quivering wreck with his critical gaze. His parents’ decision to leave on their trip to Europe the very day he had chosen to kill himself had also been a happy coincidence. He doubted whether either of them would ever decipher the true message concealed in his gesture (that he had preferred to die as he had lived—alone), but for Andrew it was enough to imagine the inevitable look of disgust on his father’s face when he discovered his son had killed himself behind his back, without his permission.
You can read the full excerpt online HERE.
Rating: 6 – Good, Recommended with reservations
Reading Next: Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen
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- You can call him John Connor. That’s what I found myself doing mentally. ↩