I absolutely adore Natasha Pulley’s writing. I’ve read all of her published novels and she now sits firmly as one of my most favourite authors. The Kingdoms reinforces this, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
I have previously reviewed two of Pulley’s other novels, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street (her debut), and The Bedlam Stacks. I have also read The Lost Future of Pepperharrow, and whilst I didn’t review it, can wholeheartedly recommend that you pick that up, too. I’d recommend reading Pulley’s books in order.
“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.”
Pulley once again knocks it out of the park. The Kingdoms lays claim to the rarely-owned space of books which I wanted to devour as quickly as possible but also didn’t want to end.
An absolutely fantastic historical fiction (fantasy?) novel, The Kingdoms follows excels at:
- The story. No spoilers, but honestly there’s intrigue, relationships, characters from a range of ethnically diverse backgrounds, LGBT+ rep, a strong focus on feminism – all wrapped up in a multifaceted, multilayered narrative that grabbed me almost immediately. The stakes are high and we really are thrown in at the deep end as the main narrator(s) have to come to grips with an entirely new setup that they couldn’t possibly have imagined.
- Worldbuilding. Speaking generically to avoid spoilers – I think that Pulley did a cracking job in crafting a world at once familiar and alien – both in terms of specific locations but also tones, political systems, and different modes of living. The world seemed to be alive, and even though I don’t have a great understanding of the background info for this story, the author fleshed it all out well enough for me to extrapolate and add little details here and there (which added to a sense of ownership of the story – which is a discussion for another time).
- Characters. Wide-ranging, well-developed, individual, meaningfully crafted characters. They are densely developed it must be said, but I think that as a package they were more than good enough for the story. There are one or two areas that I think could have benefitted from a little more attention, but no book is perfect here.
- The tension. Oh, the tension. The last two or three chapters, especially the last 10 pages. Flipping heck. I didn’t know what to do with myself, but my heart was pounding.
If I were being picky, I would have liked:
- A few more curveballs. There are a couple of conundrums in this story, and I pretty much had them both pegged straight away. Maybe this is my sceptical mind, or maybe I’m used to looking for these in Pulley’s novels by now, but I think a bit more subtlety in the curveballs, or even just a couple more of them in general, would have made the narrative a bit more consistently gripping.
The Kingdoms further cements Pulley as one of my favourite modern authors, and I cannot implore enough to read this. It is fantastic.
I received a copy of the book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.