For fans of The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle and David Mitchell, a genre bending, time twisting alternative history that asks whether it’s worth changing the past to save the future, even if it costs you everyone you’ve ever loved.
Joe Tournier has a bad case of amnesia. His first memory is of stepping off a train in the nineteenth-century French colony of England. The only clue Joe has about his identity is a century-old postcard of a Scottish lighthouse that arrives in London the same month he does. Written in illegal English—instead of French—the postcard is signed only with the letter “M,” but Joe is certain whoever wrote it knows him far better than he currently knows himself, and he’s determined to find the writer. The search for M, though, will drive Joe from French-ruled London to rebel-owned Scotland and finally onto the battle ships of a lost empire’s Royal Navy. In the process, Joe will remake history, and himself.
From bestselling author Natasha Pulley, The Kingdoms is an epic, wildly original novel that bends genre as easily as it twists time.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Kingdoms!
Genre bending and time twisting, you say? Sign me up, I say! Such enthusiasm can backfire, I’ve been there, you’ve probably been there too, so I’m sure you’ll want to know: did I actually get what it said on the box? I am happy to say that I did! To me The Kingdoms felt like Outlander meets Dark Matter in a mind-boggling speculative historical fiction novel.
When we first meet Joe, he’s in his early forties and stepping off a train in London, or more accurately: Londres, as The Kingdoms offers an alternative history in which England is a colony of France. The Thames is the Tamise, people read Le Monde, and French is the official language. Weirded out yet? I certainly was! But also very intrigued! Not only by the setting, but also by this protagonist who suffers from amnesia and feels as alien in this Londres as I did.
A few months later and still not remembering anything from before he stepped off that train, Joe receives an envelope addressed to him and held at the sorting office since 1805, for 93 years that is. Inside there’s a postcard with a photo of a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides and a note: Come home, if you remember. M. Is this M the Madeline Joe vaguely remembers? But how can she be when the letter was sent 93 years ago? And why does he feel like he knows that lighthouse? Curiouser and curiouser.
We stay with Joe as he follows the clues that lead him to the Outer Hebrides and the lighthouse that’s been haunting him. I loved that some of the mystery is cleared up right there and then, but I still had lots of questions that remained unanswered for quite some time while The Kingdoms tapered off into various timelines to explore some of the other characters’ history, as well as Joe’s present. I do love historical fiction, against all odds and all my expectations it’s become a favourite genre, but I have to admit I grew a tad impatient because I wanted Joe to find out more about the things he couldn’t remember, and I wanted to know about M. Although there’s plenty of action, I felt that all of that could perhaps have been a bit more concise, as I felt my attention waver from time to time. (I’m sure that’s all me, though, if there’s such a thing as a patience gene, they must have forgotten to put that in.)
However, when I reached the end and the story came together, I fully grasped why the author did what she did and I had to admit she’d made all the right choices, as the finale wouldn’t have had such an impact on me if it hadn’t been for all that came before. (Sorry not sorry, I’d rather be vague than spoil things for you.)
The Kingdoms definitely needs your full attention. It’s been compared to Evelyn Hardcastle and I feel that’s the most important trait these two books have in common: they are so intricate that they are quite mind-boggling and you need to read them attentively cos once you lose your way, I don’t think you can ever find it again.
The Kingdoms takes a bit of effort and concentration but it’s well worth it. If you enjoy historical fiction laced with fantasy and you like putting those little grey cells to work, then The Kingdoms is one you need to check out. And remember: there’s no place like home, but home isn’t always where, when and with whom you might think it is.
The Kingdoms is out now in all digitals formats, hardback and audio.
Huge thanks to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.