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.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review & can confirm all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Have you ever read a book, enjoyed it, but had little to no idea what was actually happening? That’s how I feel about The Kingdoms. I loved the characters, the authors writing style and the general mystery, but came out of it at the end wondering what exactly it was I had just read. I’m going to apologise now because this review might end up a little all over the place with me trying to explain my feelings without giving away major spoilers.
The Kingdoms follows Joe Tournier after he ‘wakes up’ in London with no real knowledge of who he is, how he got there and where exactly there is. He is quickly picked up by his Master who informs Joe he is a slave, has been since he was a child. Joe has no recollection of this, nor of the wife that the Master insists he has. According to the doctors, Joe is suffering from a kind of paramnesia that is selectively affecting people around the country. Joe returns to his life as a slave, still sure that something is not quite right. Then one day a postcard appears with a picture of a lighthouse signed M. The arrival of the postcard sets into motion a chain of events that will see Joe travel the length of the country, and even to a different Britain, one before the French invaded where a mysterious British ship and it’s crew were captured for information. Joe has the potential to change the world, if he can just remember.
The Kingdoms is a heavily character driven story of which Joe is at the forefront. He never really feel like he fits into his life in French occupied London, he doesn’t have memories of his wife, let alone feelings, but the one thing he does remember is a blurry visage of a man on a beach, and a vision of an England that speaks English instead of French. You can’t help but feel for Joe throughout the story, especially when he finds people who seem to know the truth of him but are unwilling to give up the knowledge. His story is one of love as well as immeasurable loss, and I wont lie in saying it had me in an overly emotional state.
We’re also introduced to a wide cast of side characters from Joe’s supposed wife to Kite, the Captain of the boat Joe finds himself on, but they’re all incredibly hard to talk about without giving away spoilers for the plot. Suffice to say they all have a major part to play in the telling of Joe’s story, as well as the furthering of the plot. Were never quite sure who we can trust, especially given Joe is the King of unreliable narrators, but we know that some of them know more about Joe’s story than they are letting on, even if we aren’t sure of the reasons.
Not only told from different perspectives, but different time periods and even different historical timelines, which got a little confusing at first. I buddy read this with Susan and it took her sending me multiple clips from Avengers movies before I got my head round certain aspects of the story and timelines. You should definitely pay attention to the chapter headers, as these mention the time period the chapter is from which definitely helped me. But even within that we have overlapping timelines, history literally being changed before our eyes, and though I managed to get my head round a lot of the changes, it was the ending that really threw me for a loop and left me with a lot of unanswered questions.
Now, I’m normally a fan of open ended books, but this was a little too open ended for my liking. I felt like the main mystery of the book just never got explained, and I really struggled to understand the last few chapters and how they fit into the previous ‘ripple effect’ style timeline changes. I will admit that this might be a me issue and not the book, there seem to be a lot of people who loved this story, ending and all. I just would have loved an explanation for Joe’s paramnesia, as well as a better understanding of who exactly it was happening too and why.
Pulley definitely pulls no punches with her storytelling. I went through a rigmarole of emotions whilst reading The Kingdoms, and there were definitely a few moments that had me shouting WTF. Her characters are incredibly complicated, but I can guarantee you will love them… even the more morally grey ones. Pulley’s writing style is beautiful and emotive and certainly adds a flow to a story that could have been choppy if written differently. I did enjoy this book, but there are certain sticking points for me that just meant I didn’t love it, or understand it as much as I would have liked.