Stars 3.5 out of 5
This was a very interesting take on time travel and on what happens to people when history changes. The idea of the deja vu and the fact that people would suddenly forget who they were for a few moments wile reality rewrote itself is something I never saw before.
What would have happened if the English lost the battle of Trafalgar? How would history have changed? What kind of world would have emerged from that crucial change? I was delightfully along for the ride for that. And I certainly wasn’t disappointed. That alternate reality was well-thought out and rather fascinating.
It is actually a very sad book, if you think about it. Especially considering that all those people Joe vaguely remembers in his deja vu episodes existed in the previous versions of reality, but are gone from the surface of the Earth now.
Having an unreliable narrator who struggles with his own memories (and lack of there of) as well as with his identity add to the confusion of the situation. We are on that train station with Joe when he first realizes that he doesn’t remember anything but his name. We experience that terror and sense of being utterly lost. I was happily along for the ride on his journey to find his identity and discover who sent him that postcard 100 years ago.
This is also where the problematic part of the book is for me. I understand that the author wanted to keep the mystery of Joe’s identity for as long as possible, so none of the characters ever tell him what they really know. But that also makes for a very frustrating read.
First of all, it seems that a lot of characters are withholding information just because the author decided so. I understand why Kite would do it, but what stopped Agatha from revealing Joe’s identity? Or the other marines and sailors he’d served with before? It makes no sense and it feels more and more forced the further in the book we get.
The other problem is Joe himself. He is way too passive as a character. His only real act of rebellion and self-definition was to go to that lighthouse in the beginning of the book, after that, he just kind of floats with the current. You could argue that his status as a prisoner doesn’t give him much choice, but there is also this passivity in him that gets infuriating the longer you read the book. I understand why he was like that at the beginning, when he had no memories and everything around him was foreign and scary, but he never grows a backbone until almost the very end of the book. It’s’ very hard to root for a character who is a voiceless victim of circumstances for most of the book.
Another problem I have is character motivation. Why bring Joe back into the past? Yes, after finishing the book, I understand the selfish reasons of why Kite wanted him there, but historically speaking, it makes no sense. Kite said himself that he didn’t want to restore the English rule because he despised that system almost as much as the French did. And honestly, building one small telegraph didn’t change matters all that much. Or at least the author didn’t show any of those changes. History was changed by people, not an invention, in this case.
I also didn’t particularly like the ending. I thought it was a cheep trick on the part of the author to basically have most of Joe’s current family vanish overnight just to justify his decision to go back. It would have been more emotionally rewarding if he had to say goodbye and choose between his new family and his found family from the past instead. It would have given Joe’s character growth a deeper meaning. As it stands in the book, it’s a cheep cop out.
These problems notwithstanding, I really enjoyed this book. It’s a fresh idea and a mostly enjoyable execution. I would definitely recommend it for those who enjoy books about time travel.
PS: I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.