Thursday, June 30, 2011
The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma
Author: Felix J. Palma
Translator: Nick Caistor
Publisher: Atria Books, 2011
Hardcover, 624 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
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.