Monday, November 7, 2011

Review: The Map of Time

When I read a short description of FĂ©lix J. Palma's The Map of Time, I thought it was right up my alley: time travel, H.G. Wells, Jack the Ripper and things going wrong.  Alrighty, then, where do I sign up?

It was nothing like I expected — and it was utterly delicious.

It begins with a young man who wishes to die because his love already is dead.  However, this man is given hope: time travel.  It is Victorian England, near the end of the 19th century, and technology is slowly becoming the new God in this Industrial Age.  In the shadow of the Crystal Palace, where technology showed the way to the future, one can guess how easily duped are the public who want to believe.

But what happens if it's the truth after all?

The novel manages to drop names and draw in the most unexpected characters, both actual and fictional.  The story jumps between love gone wrong to love gone wrong, to — well, it's not all "love gone wrong," but if Miracle Max will work to benefit true love, shouldn't H.G. Wells?  There is villainy and heroism, there are choices of which to be (and one never expects either the choices made or the consequences thereof) — there's plenty of murder, an introduction to the abject poverty of the 19th century, a look at the future, a person's conversation with himself, bicycles, plenty of thugs and a few unexpected friends, literary hooliganism and more.

There also is some fair discussion of time travel and related issues, thoughtful and thought-provoking.  In the end, of course, a reader hopes for as many questions as answers — because the more intriguing and stirring the story, the more a reader ponders and speculates.

If, during your reading, you hit a hairpin turn and wonder how you got there, and how in the world this has anything to do with the rest of the story, don't despair.  Follow Palma wherever he leads, and you will not be sorry.  When you read the final page, expect to be tempted to flip to the beginning of the novel just to start again.

If you begin with a library copy, be prepared to either renew often or to find your own, soon-to-be-worn copy of The Map of Time.  This will become a perennial favorite, picked up and devoured every once in a while because something else fantastic will be apparent on every re-read.