Review: The Kingdoms – Natasha Pulley
by Natasha Pulley
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication Date: May 25, 2021
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
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.
Content warnings: View Spoiler »slavery, war violence (mostly on ships), ableism, homophobia, misogyny, grief, sexual assault, violent death (including that of children), animal death, drinking « Hide Spoiler
What I know about the Napoleonic wars could fit into a thimble, so I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. It’s thought-provoking and heart-wrenching, and has a bit of a romantic subplot (though it’s most assuredly not a romance).
“Come home, if you remember.”
Joe disembarks from a train in London with no memory of how he got there or who he is. Taken to the hospital, and then later an asylum, he finds out that his isn’t the only case of complete amnesia, but there’s nothing to be done about. Joe, who finds out he’s a slave, returns to live with his master and his wife, neither of whom he has any memory of. But he can’t quite rid himself of the feeling that something isn’t right, and a postcard of a lighthouse with a mysterious inscription only fuels his hopes of one day rediscovering his memories. When the opportunity comes to visit that lighthouse, Joe hopes it’ll finally give him answers… but what he discovers there is worse than he could possibly have imagined.
The plot is delightfully twisty. It’s obvious that something traumatic has happened to Joe, and his inability to remember anything except a few snatches is terrifying, as well as everyone’s insistence that he simply fit back into his “normal” life as if nothing has changed. It’s hard to talk about the other twists without going into spoilers, but the majority of the story is Joe trying to figure out who he “really” is and why he lost his memory, while the characters around him manipulate him and refuse to answer his questions. Missouri and Agatha were fascinating characters, morally complex in ways that left me questioning whether I was rooting for them or not. And while there’s a few naval battles (a good chunk of the book does take place during a war) most of the book is slowly paced. Joe’s emotions are really front and center in the book, and the way the author conveys them and how they influence his decisions was particularly well done. For instance, there’s a particular plot twist that I thought was painfully obvious, but that Joe remains oblivious to for most of the book. The build-up to it – watching Joe make decisions from one point of context while knowing he’s horribly wrong – was one of the things that kept me turning pages.
Overall, this book was absolutely fascinating and I will definitely be checking out the author’s previous work.