jueves, 30 de julio de 2015

The Map of Chaos (Victorian Trilogy #3) - Félix J. Palma

Summary (from Simon & Schuster):

When the person he loves most dies in tragic circumstances, the mysterious protagonist of The Map of Chaos does all he can to speak to her one last time and confess the secret he didn’t dare tell her while she was alive. A session with the most renowned medium of all time seems to offer the only solution, but the experience unleashes terrible forces that bring the world to the brink of disaster. Salvation can only be found in The Map of Chaos, an obscure book that he is desperate to find. In his search, he is given invaluable help by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Lewis Carroll, and of course by H.G. Wells, whose Invisible Man seems to have escaped from the pages of his famous novel to sow terror among mankind. They alone can discover the means to save the world and to find the path that will reunite the lovers separated by death.

The Map of Chaos is the third and last book of Félix J. Palma's Victorian trilogy. I also reviewed the first and the second novels. TL;DR: I loved them, and you will love them too if you love Victoriana genre fiction.

I am so sad to have finished reading this. The Victorian trilogy is one of the best things to have happened to Spanish fantasy in ages. It has relaunched the speculative fiction scene, especially the Spanish steampunk community, whose members have welcomed Palma among them. In fact, the prologue was a 'wink-wink-nudge-nudge' kind of situation referencing many steampunk tropes and it was a lot of fun.

I am happy to say that the end of the trilogy lived up to my expectations, although I have some minor quibbles with it. One of the best assets of the Victorian trilogy is Palma's flowery prose. It can be a dealbreaker for some readers, who can't stand the meandering about, but it is germane to what Palma is doing, which is writing an homage to early genre novels, thus making use of their style. Sadly, The Map of Chaos falls a little bit short on this front. 

On the other hand, characterization was extremely good this time around, even better than in the previous books. Palma's characters are redeemed by love, and writing about love is one of the stronger suits of this writer. It is easy to step into the character's shoes and feel what they feel, no matter how much you hated them when you were experiencing the story from the point of view of the other characters. I have already said this, and will repeat it: I am sad to leave these characters for good. I have grown very attached to them. Oh well, I can always reread this trilogy.

I am going to delve into spoiler territory, because I want to discuss this at length. I really don't want to say goodbye to these characters! Read on at your own risk.

Spanish edition for The Map of Chaos
As with the other two books, The Map of Chaos follows the very rigid classic structure of storytelling - three acts corresponding to exposition, rising action and resolution. As always, each act is really a three-acted novella, and the overarching plot is difficult to spot until the last one. While in Map of Time Palma honored early science fiction and in Map of the Sky, early adventure stories, in Map of Chaos he tackles early detective novels, for which I have a weakness.

In the first novella we follow Agent Clayton during his first mission as a Special Agent. It was unexpectedly good to get background for a character that I hadn't particularly liked before. This is the story of how he lost his hand, fell in love with a lady and lost her forever, thus making him a very bitter man. It gave him a lot of depth, and explained many things from previous novels. On top of this, it is a page-turner mystery with a hint of the supernatural, in the vein of The Hound of the Baskervilles, but with better pace. In fact, this Sherlock story features prominently throughout the whole novel.

The second novella is more intimate, which entails a rather abrupt change in pace to let us reunite with our dear characters: H.G. Wells and his wife Jane, who are now giving marriage advice to Gilliam Murray and Emma Harlow. This second act has the best scenes of the whole novel, but unfortunately muddled in a not-that-interesting story about spiritism, ghosts and an invisible man. I still liked it a lot, though. H.G. Wells introduces Arthur Conan Doyle to Gilliam Murray, which is an excuse for Palma to openly discuss Sherlock Holmes and explore the love triangle between A.C. Doyle, Jean Leckie and Louisa Hawkins. I think it is the first time I have been glad to read about a love triangle. Heh. The only characters missing were Claire Haggerty and Captain Shackleton.

The overarching story of the whole trilogy was starting to be discernible at the end of the second novella. Everything, and I mean everything, really comes together during the third and final act of this novel, and I hadn't seen it coming. The key to understanding the Victorian trilogy is fantasy itself, since The Map of Chaos borders on self-awareness. The characters meet for a fantastic ending out of the pages of a book. In line with this, Alice in Wonderland plays an important role in the plot, and I would even say that there were references to Doctor Who. There were maybe too many deus ex machina here and there, but it also tied in with the whole theme of fantasy being a reality inside a reality. 

The Map of Chaos was thrilling, moving, well-written and left no loose ends. And it made me want to reread the whole trilogy. I hadn't been so in love with a fantasy series since Harry Potter.

Have you recently read a book you loved with your whole heart?

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