STARRED REVIEW
June 2021

The Kingdoms

By Natasha Pulley
Review by
Natasha Pulley balances the topsy-turvy nature of time travel by grounding her story in naval history and a gradually unfolding queer love story.
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When Joe Tournier steps off a train from Glasgow in 1898 Londres, he can remember his name but very little else, and he barely recognizes his surroundings. He learns that the former British capital has been a colony of the French Republic ever since France won the Napoleonic Wars 90 years ago. So begins Natasha Pulley’s The Kingdoms, a deliciously transgressive work of steampunk speculative fiction.

Joe is diagnosed with “silent epilepsy,” the official name given to the visions and amnesia that sometimes afflict people in this world. Otherwise in good health, Joe is returned to the French family to whom he is enslaved and to his wife, Alice, none of whom he recalls. After several years and the birth of his daughter, Joe receives a postcard of a lighthouse in the Scottish islands with a message signed by “M.” Most mysteriously, the note arrives almost a century after it was written.

Joe is determined to get answers about his identity as well as that of the card’s sender. He returns to Glasgow, now the site of a simmering British rebellion, and then travels farther north where he discovers a portal that acts as a pass-through from one era to another. Finally, at the lighthouse, he meets Missouri Kite, a Royal Navy officer from 1807, and is drawn into a complicated plan to use technology such as telegraphs and steam engines to aid in the British fight against the French.

Along with a cast of characters that includes the real-life Admiral Lord Nelson, Joe and Kite race from Scotland to Spain, trying to sway the forces that led to France’s victory. The butterfly theory, which posits that complex changes often originate from minuscule actions, plays out as Joe ricochets from century to century, trying to help his friends and ensure his own future existence and that of his family.

Pulley balances the topsy-turvy nature of time travel by grounding her story in tidbits of naval history and a gradually unfolding queer love story.

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The Kingdoms

The Kingdoms

By Natasha Pulley
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635576085

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