Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Title: The Map of Time
Author: Felix J. Palma
Translator: Nick Caistor
ISBN: 9781439167397
Publisher: Atria Books, 2011
Hardcover, 624 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: C
Source: the publisher

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.

The Map of Time is a rollicking homage to the Victorian world and to H.G. Wells and the concept of time travel. When it succeeds, it has the power to transport readers to a fascinating world. When it doesn't, reader interest can rapidly wander.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with traveling back to the past. The second, with traveling into the future, and the third and final section with the future coming back to the past.

The first section was by far the best of the three. Andrew Harrington, the poor little rich boy who's been terrorized by the prototypical power-mad father, has decided to commit suicide. He lost the love of his life six years ago. (If I were to say "Mary Kelly" and "1880s London", aficionados of that particular time period will know where this is headed.) Andrew's best friend is not going to let him go quietly into that good night, and comes up with the only solution he can think of: Go to the man who owns Murray's Time Travel to see if they can't pay to go back in time to prevent the death of Andrew's beloved Mary Kelly. This section is full of the bustle, the smells, the sound of Victorian London. Palma also shows a deft hand at humor when describing the origins of the senior Harrington's wealth.

The second section was much less successful. I love time travel, and I'm the most willing subject to suspend my disbelief to enter a story. However, once details crop up that don't sync with that story, I can get thrown out very easily. This is what happened in the second section. Some of the jarring details were to clue the reader in on the fact that things weren't what they seemed. However, when you tell me in one sentence that the hero is flat broke, then two paragraphs later (without benefit of payday or windfall) I'm told the same hero is treating a lady to tea and sandwiches AND paying for a room in a boarding house, I get thrown out of the story and am more likely to search for other discrepancies.

I was completely hooked in part one, suspicious in part two, and by the time the time traveler from the future showed up, my interest began to wander. Badly. Partly because it was rather obvious what the time traveler was up to, and partly because the story had the feeling of a helium balloon with a slow leak.

Historical figures play a large part in this book-- in particular H.G. Wells, author of The Time Machine. The use of historical personages as characters doesn't bother me as long as it's done well, which it is in The Map of Time. I loved the premise, I loved the historical detail, I loved the characters. However, the plot just wasn't meaty enough to hold up through six hundred pages.


  1. Such a well written and thought out review, Cathy. I don't think I'd like the book much either even though, like you, I will willingly suspend my disbelief easily enough when it comes to time travel.

    It's a shame when a book with such a good story outline turns into a dud.

    Of coure, since, ' two people read the same book...' I might take a look but more than likely not in the immediate future. :)

  2. Cathy - You really have the most thoughtful and helpful reviews! To be honest, time travelling isn't really my thing, and since you weren't swept away by this (for which I'm sorry to hear), I'll probably wait on it a bit...

  3. Oh, dear. I've read one other review which was very positive, and now yours makes me reconsider. If it shows up at the library, maybe I'll give it a try, but don't think I'll order a copy.

    I think time travel is terribly difficult to make believable.

  4. Yvette-- Fortunately the first section was so good that the book wasn't a complete dud... just a balloon that was beginning to come back to earth.

    Margot-- I wouldn't blame you, although I'd recommend the first section to anyone.

    Jenclair-- I think it's worth getting a copy from the library and giving it a try, especially that first section.

  5. The cover grabbed me, your description of Part One intrigued me, but .... 600 pages and a lukewarm reception makes me wait on this one. I wonder if it's on audio (that's a lot of laundry-folding time!).

    Did you read Finney's TIME AND AGAIN? It's set in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of NY, very fun!

  6. Yoiks--I was seriously considering adding this one to my list, despite your reservations, until I got to the six hundred pages part! Three hundred pages, I'm willing to risk it...but six hundred is serious stuff...

  7. I just finished reading this and overall I loved it. Yes, it had those little problems with the hero affording tea and sandwiches much less even being allowed in an upper class tea room! But I can forgive a little of that and really that whole section was a bit of a fantasy.

    The book probably would have been better if it were a hundred or so pages shorter, but I'm still recommending it.

  8. Dawn-- TIME AND AGAIN is one of my favorite books!

    Charlotte-- 600 pages is a definite commitment, isn't it? :)

    Leslie-- I'm certainly glad you enjoyed it more than I did. I still think the first section is superb.


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