If you’ve read my previous reviews – all the way back into 2018! – you’ll know that I loved Natasha Pulley’s “The Watchmaker of Filigree Street” and “The Bedlam Stacks”. Sadly I can’t say the same of “The Kingdoms”.
The beginning of the book is something of a confused muddle. I know the main character is supposed to be disoriented, and the intention may have been to an attempt to get that sensation across to the reader – but for me it’s the writing which is confused rather than the narrative. And there are some examples of really poor quality editing, not only in terms of ‘continuity errors’ which haven’t been picked up, but across the first couple of chapters as a whole. I don’t understand how Bloomsbury were happy to let this hit the shelves as it is. I think the opening needs rewriting.
I tried to give the book more time, however I’m afraid I’ve closed it after 80 pages. My underlying impression is that Pulley simply doesn’t believe in her story. The premise – the aftermath of England losing the war against Napoleon and France – is sound enough: we open in a Victorian England which has no Victoria and which isn’t England, so Londres rather than London, French spoken, names changed, a Metro(?) in the capital, slavery exists(!) etc. But I can’t help but feel that we’re watching someone going through the motions with the narrative. It’s almost identikit dystopian. “The Kingdoms” doesn’t have the depth and integrity of “Filigree”. Faced with the overlay of time-travel (which worried me anyway) on weak foundations wasn’t lure enough for me to keep going.
Which is a shame; as I said, I really liked “Filigree” and “Bedlam”. It’s not a crime to miss the target occasionally; most writers do I suspect (see Ishiguro). If you’re going to read Pulley – and I would encourage you to – please read one of those two…