"The Kingdoms," | Reviewed by Nelson Appell
It’s best not to know too much about Natasha Pulley’s “The Kingdoms” before you start reading. Part of the joy of reading this novel is settling in to its uneasy atmosphere and figuring out what is going on. It’s a compelling, alternate-history, seafaring adventure that takes place in two different historical Englands.
Joe Tournier lives in French-controlled 1898 London and has a feeling that everything is wrong. He is besieged by memory problems, suffers from silent seizures and blurs the imaginary and the real. This mysterious condition afflicts many other people, too.
One day Joe receives a letter from the post-office, a postcard held by the post-office for 93 years. On it is a picture of the Eilean Mor Lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides. The card invites Joe to “Come home, if you remember.” Joe feels he must find a way to visit this lighthouse in Scotland, despite the misgivings of his family.
There are many enticing mysteries along they way. Who sent the postcard? Why are the French in control of 1898 London? Why is the Battle of Trafalgar so important? Who, really, is Joe Tournier? And why does everyone Tournier meets withhold vital information from him?
Pulley has a distinctive style to her writing, that is emotional and reflective. The opening chapters are convincingly claustrophobic. She has done her research, and is able to convincingly portray 1898 and 1803.
The book focuses on the effects of time travel as much as it does on the effects of naval battles. In Pulley’s hands, the awful aftermath of battle carnage can be compared to the awful aftermath of time travel. She doesn’t gloss over things, and that is the book’s biggest strength.
Emotions are complicated. Changing history is even more complicated. Pulley offers some mind-bendingly-specific ideas about how time travel can be used to win wars and change history.
If you enjoy time-travel combined with history, this is an original effort worth your time.