The sheer size of this book (it tops out at 600 pages) ensures that you won’t be dragging it with you during your daily commute on the train. And the flowery Victorian-style prose will guarantee that you won’t be able to digest it in tiny passages on your coffee breaks. No, The Map of the Sky by Felix J. Palma is such a sweeping, grand affair that you’ll need two months to thoroughly savour and, finally, review it. (Or is it just me?)
There’s so much to love about this book – where should I begin? The plot line is delicious: there is adventure and murder aboard an ice-stranded ship in Antarctica, a horrific Martian invasion of London that mimics a certain famous writer’s novel The War of the Worlds, and an epic, tension-filled love story between a wealthy purported time-traveller and a headstrong American dreamer. And did I mention that both Edgar Allan Poe and H.G. Wells are central figures in the whole affair? Key elements of the plot are completely turned over (and, in some cases, refuted) at the end of two of the book’s three colossal parts, and readers might get a little grumpy at being manipulated in such a way after such a huge investment of time. Trust me – these cliffhangers mirror common tricks in books from the period and it all works itself out in the end!
Palma’s meticulous attention to detail completely immerses the reader in the Victorian era, and nothing is overlooked – the settings, the clothing, the customs, and the dialogue are all spot-on perfect. That the book is written in the elegant, effusive, adverb-riddled language of the day adds to the reader’s experience. (If you haven’t been exposed to it by way of English lit classes, the style can be a bit off-putting at first. Stick with it – you won’t regret it.)
The Map of the Sky is the second book of a trilogy that began with The Map of Time (an homage — sort of — to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine). Unfortunately, I didn’t read the first book before delving into The Map of the Sky, and I think it would have given me an excellent view of the relationship between the character of Wells and his nemesis Gilliam Murray — plus, it would have resolved all those time machine references. While you don’t need to read the books in order, I really would recommend it.
And, definitely, read Wells’ The War of the Worlds (and if you already have, years ago, read it again)! Although it’s not necessary to do so to enjoy Palma’s work, it is very interesting to go through the two books side by side and compare notes. As well, reading The War of the Worlds gives you a sense of the prevailing British world view and style of writing that Palma has so carefully reproduced in The Map of the Sky. Palma’s book is a masterful work — to think that this is an English translation of the original Spanish! Palma’s translator, Nick Caistor, is a genius in his own right. I am seriously looking forward to reading the other books in the trilogy.
Oh, and I’m really digging the 3D glasses and fancy illustrations of the Martian invasion inside the hardcover print edition. Nice touch!