Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: A Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

Title: A Map of Time
Author: Felix J. Palma
Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Atria
Publishing Date: June 28th 2011
Hardcover: 611 pages

Stand Alone or series: Stand alone

Where did I get this book: I won this book from Goodreads actually

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.
Review:

Broken up into three different parts, A Map of Time is about love, time travel, and all the craziness these two things can create. The first part follows Andrew Harrington as he plans to commit suicide after living in depression since his love was murdered. Author H.G. Wells assists Harrington in traveling to the past to prevent a murder and therefor hopefully saving both Andrew and his love's life. In the second part, H.G Wells helps two lovers, Clair Haggerty and Captain Shackleton, bridge the gap between the present and the future. And in the third part, H.G. Wells questions the ramifications of time travel and attempts to save the books we love so much today.

Since the story is broken up into three different parts, it was easy to see that some parts were more enjoyable than others. In fact, I think I liked the first part the least so I had a hard time initially getting into the book. By the end though, I was pretty enamored with the story. For one, the ending was just perfect in my view. Second, I loved the feel of whimsy the story had. It reminded me of The Good Mayor and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. Maybe it was the narrator that makes me think of these two things, but A Map of Time is something special and hard to describe. Palam often allows the narrator to address the reader and I love when authors take that risk.

This is not to say the book didn't have it's faults. One of the best things about the books is the writing itself. I don't know if Palma or the translator should get most of the credit, but every phrase felt like it was carefully selected and polished a thousand times before given to the reader like a gift. On the flip side, every passage and explanation was painstakingly long. This book is 611 pages and by the end I felt like I'd read hundreds more. I love long books, but this book felt long and that's not a plus. If the book had been parred down then it would have been much better. As it stand now, it seems a bit self-indulgent. When Palma writes about Wells considering the difference between good authors and bad authors, I felt like he was talking about himself. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I like my books without the extra ego stroking.

I think some people will go into this book expected something different from what it really is. I know I did and that's actually my biggest complaint about the book. The blurb made me think the story would be similar to the Thursday Next series, but the book turned out to be a lot less detective time traveling and a lot more confusion about time travel. This book is really three independent stories loosely tied together by Wells and I'm not sure it worked as well as it could have. Of course I don't envy the person who had to summarize such a unique and strange story in a paragraph either.

Notable Quotes/ Parts:
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 rest here.

Verdict:

I'm torn between a six and a seven, but at the end of the day the writing is just too special to ignore. Honestly, this book seems like the type of story I imagine an old story teller would tell. Compared with the mediocre books I've read lately, A Map of Time was refreshingly singular.

Rating: 7. Very good

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