We’ve all read about authors who have elaborate methods for keeping track of their plots and characters; some use index cards or specialized notebooks and there are writing programs that break everything into helpful sections. I like to imagine that some of them create walls that look like those classic scenes from police procedurals where detectives break into the home of a suspect, finding a wall covered with photographs, maps, post-its and endless pieces of string that tie it all together. Natasha Pulley‘s books must require that level of effort for her to craft them, perhaps more. Maybe she uses a whole room to prepare, or an entire floor of an elaborately decorated Victorian home filled with furniture and accessories that inspire her intricate novels. That must be it!
Pulley’s first three novels The Watchmaker of Filigree Street and The Lost Future of Pepperharrow (and a prequel, sort of, called The Bedlam Stacks) were stories that pulled a reader in from the first page and became a compulsive read, one that caused everything else to fall away while you walked through 19th century England, Japan and Peru. Her ability to make a topic that you might have zero interest in ever learning about, like the innerworkings of a telegraph office or watchmaking, and turn it into the most fascinating thing by spinning a story with the most beguiling characters is incredible.
Of course, Pulley’s novels weren’t just about telegraphy or the repair of fine watches. They were about finding a family, love, intrigue and acceptance (with time travel that takes a bit of extra puzzling to figure out). In The Kingdoms, she includes time travel again but of an entirely different sort – who can make this happen and still ensnare the imaginations of a reader? And she builds this new world with such attention to the details, it all makes perfect sense.
In her latest, The Kingdoms, main character Joe Tournier is just stepping off of a steam train with a terrible headache and no idea of where he lives. With the help of a stranger, he takes a carriage ride to a London hospital where he is diagnosed with amnesia, something he learns is fairly common. Once he is reunited with his family, he is never able to shake the feeling that something is missing from his life and it is related in some way to a kind-hearted man from a beach.
Eventually Joe goes in search of answers to a lighthouse on the coast of Scotland. This journey takes him to a different country than he ever imagined and to a different time period (he could never have imagined this!) and he spends months or possibly years, depending on how you interpret the story, aboard British Royal Navy ships fighting during the Napoleonic War. If you are a reader who is capable of feeling seasick, you might want to prepare a remedy as this is realistic writing. Joe is on the ship, so we are on the ship too. When cannons hit the ship, you might shy away from the pages. Some of the research that Natasha Pulley did for this novel included working as the writer in residence on a tall ship – The Pelican. Joe becomes an integral part of that crew and you will become loyal as well, wishing them good luck in battle and aching for calmer seas.
Part of Joe’s emotional journey on the way to Scotland and while on board the warship is that he is always conscious of the family he has left behind and yet he feels compelled to seek out the reason for his amnesia. As readers we have some of the pieces in Joe’s puzzle but never enough to fully solve it until the very end of this incredible story. We also now see him falling in love with one of the officers, Missouri Kite, and it’s hard not to join Joe in his admiration for this character. Each skirmish on the ocean, every moment when their ship meets stormy seas causes a worrying thought of how might this impact their blossoming relationship? It’s a blend of fantasy/adventure/romance that you should be prepared to read at least twice, just to experience the small details she has included once again.
By the end of this outstanding novel, Joe’s amnesia is explained and his future is clear (no spoilers). You might find yourself aching for a similar sailing experience and you can make it happen! The same organization that Natasha Pulley worked for aboard The Pelican has many options for sailing the high seas, just click on their website and select, appropriately – Find Your Adventure. They can’t take you into battle during Napoleonic times but, aboard those gorgeous ships, you will feel as if you have travelled through time.
— Penny M.