I’m taking a short break from The Ultimate Reading Challenge post series to talk about the incredible book I just finished reading, The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley.
I first heard of The Kingdoms through an extensive Goodreads list which compiled some of their users’ top-rated alternative history (a genre which imagines different endings to historical events) books. The Kingdoms was one of four or five books from that list which I was interested in but couldn’t track down at any of my local libraries. Imagine my delight when I found it on a library’s New Releases shelf just a few months later! My initial excitement waned, however, the longer it sat on my bookshelf. With the idea to determine if it was even worth keeping, I sat down to read the first few pages. Well, once I read the first page, I couldn’t tear myself away! Let’s get right into just what made The Kingdoms so captivating.
The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley:
Joe can’t remember anything that happened before he stepped off of a train in the 19th-century French colony of England. He can answer general questions with ease, but the things that should be familiar -his wife, his home, his life- are alien. The only clues he has to his lost identity are wisps of memories of people who don’t seem to exist. Joe soon receives a mysterious postcard of a Scottish lighthouse signed by someone named “M” imploring Joe to come home, if he remembers. And the date it was posted? 93 years earlier. Determined to find this “M”, Joe impulsively travels to the lighthouse and soon finds himself transported to a time before the British defeat in the Napoleonic Wars. Alongside a cast of characters who seem to know more about Joe than they’re willing to let on, Joe must decide whether he’s willing to rewrite history to ensure a British victory. And if he does, whether it’s worth jeopardizing his life in the future to do so.
The setting was reason alone for me to fall in love with this book. A world where the Axis Powers win World War Two? Good, but been there, done that. A world where the French seize England after the Napoleonic Wars? New and exciting. I didn’t know much about this time period to begin with, but what I’ve absorbed through The Kingdoms has made me eager to learn more. (Anyone know any good fiction books about soldiers fighting in the Napoleonic Wars? I’ve read books where the fighting is happening “across the channel”, but never any where the conflict is the focal point.) Then I met Joe, and my heart melted. I rooted for him the entire way as he tried to figure out who he really was. One of the things that I liked about the storytelling was that I didn’t have any more idea of his identity than Joe did. Other characters have information about him, but the little bits and pieces they reveal through their narratives force you to become a detective and read into everything they’re saying. There must be an important piece of information here, but what is it? I had my suspicions, but for the most part I took their narratives as development for the side characters because I kept changing theories as to who Joe really was. But once you’ve pieced it all together? You’ll look at the book in a whole new light, noticing details you won’t believe you missed the first time. If you aren’t someone who normally re-reads books, the cleverly crafted plot of The Kingdoms will have you racing back to page 1. If this isn’t enough of a sell, there’s so many different genres crammed into this book that there should be something for everyone. It’s alternate fiction, it’s queer romance, it’s fantasy, it’s mystery, it’s comedy, it’s a narrative about family, fate, and the way your upbringing shapes your development… it seems like a lot, but each of these factors coexist seamlessly alongside each other. Without them, the story’s world would not be so intricately developed and the characters so complex, flawed, and human.
I have so much love for The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley that I ordered a copy as soon as I finished the last page. It’s a fresh and engaging take on the alternate history novel which combines dozens of genres into an intricate web that makes you eager to turn the next page. I can’t wait to re-read it and savour the plot, characters, and hidden details all over again!