Review: The Kingdoms by Natasha Pulley

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.

This book is wonderful, a beautifully woven story that jumps us across time periods to focus on the things that really matter to us – the people who feel like ‘home’.

I’m a big fan of books set in the Napoleonic era (I blame devouring all of Bernard Cornwall’s wonderful Sharpe novels as a teenager) and I find it a truly fascinating period in history. Here Natasha Pulley gives us a glimpse into an alternate timeline of that period (among other time strands) , taking a look at what could have happened to Britain had the battle of Trafalgar been lost to the French.

Focusing on Joe who is pulled between his own time and the past unwillingly, Pulley expertly changes the fabric of the world around him, examining those little ripples that make a difference – even when we didn’t mean them too. Joe himself is as vulnerable as the timeline, he has lost most of memory apart from odd flashes that he feels drawn too. This doesn’t stop him trying to do the right thing though (even as he discovers elements of himself he was unaware of) he’s a strangely endearing character and you want him to come out alright.

Then we have Kite, strong, vulnerable, full of contradictions Kite. He just broke my heart over and over and yet somehow he always fixed it again too. There just aren’t enough works to explain how Kite made me feel, he was at once a scared child and a scary man all rolled up together in a Kite shaped mess. And I loved him for it.

Pulley has a way of looking at the small, soft moments in a relationship and using them to give the reader a picture of the whole thing. Somehow it makes those relationships seem even more real than if we had seen a big declaration or a fireworks moment. Its so clever and so effective.

I absolutely loved this time jumping, boat hopping, home finding novel.

With thanks to Bloomsbury for sending me an Advance Reader Copy.

The Kingdoms is available 27th May 2021 and you should definitely go pre-order it now.