Joe Tournier is an amnesiac living as a slave in the French colony of England in 1898. His first memory is of stepping off a train platform in London after arriving from Glasgow with no memory of who he is. He has recurring and fleeting memories of a woman named Madeline, a lighthouse, a man on a beach, and a sense that something is wrong. He is taken to an asylum and a doctor diagnoses him with a rare form of epilepsy, one that has afflicted hundreds of others that also suffer from delusions of false memories. Then one day Joe receives a postcard of a lighthouse in the mail, postmarked 1805.
Come home, if you remember.
With no other clue to follow Joe sets out to locate the lighthouse on the postcard leading him eventually to English-occupied Scotland and the secluded lighthouse on Eilean Mor, and an ancient gateway to the past.
The Kingdoms has a slow start but once Joe reaches the lighthouse the story sets its hooks in the reader and does not let go. From the title and jacket description I thought it was going to be along the lines of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere but its much closer to Blake Crouch’s time travel thriller Recursion. Natasha Pulley expertly layers her overlapping narrative with secrets that once uncovered deepen the narrative and the way the reader feels about the characters. Even the title is a clue to the overarching plot and once the meaning behind it is revealed pieces of the puzzle start to click into place.
It is difficult to say why the book is so affecting without delving into spoilers which make it difficult to write this review. I have a lot I want to write but I feel it would be a disservice to Pulley’s intention. If the premise intrigues you I recommend going in blind. The Kingdoms crosses several genres and I think will appeal to fans of romance novels, science fiction, adventures, and French/English history. The book has a mystery-box aspect in its design but choices are made that seem to be in service to prolonging mystery rather than honest emotional reactions from the characters. However, even with that quibble what Pulley has accomplished with The Kingdoms is truly dazzling by the final page and lends itself well to re-reading.
One final note for history or unsolved mystery buffs, this real life occurrence was most likely was an inspiration for Pulley: Mystery of Eilean Mor Lighthouse