The Map of Time
by Félix J. Palma
The Map of Time is an ode to the Victorian era, and in particular to those Victorian writers like H.G. Wells and Bram Stoker who were the forerunners of genre fiction. It's a clever book, with a self-aware narrator who speaks directly to the reader and makes sly asides, and multiple stories that connect in surprising ways. However, it takes more than clever writing to make a good book, and this is one that I didn't enjoy.
One problem is just that this isn't really the time travel science fiction story that I expected. I can't say too much about this without spoiling things, but I think this is a book that will appeal more to literary fiction readers than science fiction/fantasy readers.
If that were the only issue, I would put it down to either inadequate marketing, or my own misunderstanding, and leave it at that. However, there are other problems with the book. The writing style relies too heavily on long, expository passages. The first hundred and fifty pages are a slog, although it does get somewhat better after that. The characters are unlikeable; there wasn't one character that I could truly say I liked or admired, and a few that I outright disliked.
The thing that bothered me the most, though, was the misogyny that permeated the book. Women are objectified and treated with contempt, by the narrator as well as the male characters. The few female characters are portrayed as frigid, empty-headed, or incredibly gullible.
There are two "romances" in the book. The first one involves a wealthy young man who, after seeing a portrait of a Whitechapel prostitute, becomes obsessed with her, stalks her, and pays for her services. And this is the foundation on which their romance is built. Do prostitutes really fall in love with their clients? Pretty Woman aside, I don't think it's credible.
I don't want to spoil anything, but it probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that this woman falls victim to Jack the Ripper. When her "beloved" is offered the opportunity to go back in time and save her from the Ripper, it never occurs to him to go back a little further and save her friends who were also killed by the Ripper. For that matter, it never occurs to him to go back even further and save her from becoming a prostitute in the first place. Of course not, because his own happiness is the important thing and the woman is just an object serving that purpose.
The other romance in this book involves a man concocting an elaborate lie (involving time travel, of course) to get a young woman into bed. When she seems about to acquiesce, he feels a little bad, but then reassures himself that she's only "getting what she deserved." Um, really? This sounds more like a foundation for rape, not romance.
I understand what Palma was trying to do in this book: in the letter from the author at the beginning of the ARC he talks about immersing himself in the Victorian era. Palma was trying to channel the Victorian writers and write from their perspective. However, while he may have emulated their style, I don't think that he has the skill of a Dickens or Wells or Stoker, and even with the biases of earlier centuries, none of those writers wrote with such a misogynistic point of view. By coincidence, the last book I read before reading The Map of Time was Bram Stoker's Dracula, which plays a part in The Map of Time. In Dracula, Mina is actually quite a heroic character, and while the men in the book do treat her with Victorian sensibilities — there's much talk about protecting her, for example — it's clear that they also respect her.
I've read some glowing reviews of this book, so not everyone shares my opinion.
Content advisory: sexual content and graphic descriptions of Jack the Ripper's murders.
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FTC required disclosure: Reviewed from ARC. Review copy provided by the publisher to enable me to write this review. Some of the bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.