I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Historical Fantasy Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 4 stars Series: Standalone
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.
Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE KINGDOMS is a historical fantasy set in an alternate universe of time slips that have seen the French win the Napoleonic wars.
It is primarily told following Joe’s perspective as he discovers he knows nothing of his life, but has all the skills he would have picked up over the course of it (languages etc). There is this deep, unsettling feeling from the start, as soon as the reader is introduced to a London that is not the London we all know. The slippery quality of it all being both different but familiar at the same time is the perfect way to slide into a mystery full of timeslips that make the world a terrifying parallel to our own.
The mystery of who Joe is and what’s happened to the world is really good, slowly unfurled across the book. Characters evade answering questions, arguing over whether to tell him or not. Events niggle and the pieces slowly come together until the most innocuous thing is the final grain on the scales to inform the readers of what’s happened. The ending also has the same disconcerting feel of all being just slightly too wrong (except you know why now), which was a nice thematic wrap up, but also kept the tone of the book the same throughout.
Alongside Joe’s story are a series of chapters and scenes from the past – not exactly in chronological order, which was a little hard to keep straight at times. These occasional chapters (from two POVs) reveal the events that lead to the world not being the one we know, and were a really cool exploring of a “what if” that leads to France winning at Trafalgar.
Kite is probably the most complex character of the book. It’s so hard to work out who he is and if he can be trusted. Some of his actions are horrible, but he’s also deeply compassionate and dedicated. Even by the end, when his “character archetype” is revealed, I still wasn’t sure what to make of him, as there was no attempt to explain away the more uncomfortable of his actions.