The Map of Chaos, the new book by Felix Palma, is not for everybody. In fact, there are whole categories of people who shouldn’t even try to read it.
If you’re a person who likes linear narratives, this book is not for you. If you want chapter two to pick up exactly where chapter one left off, and having to wait a few chapters to see what was actually going on in chapter one drives you crazy, then you’re not going to enjoy this book. The opening chapter drops us into an alternate Victorian England where two men are trying to persuade the powers that be of the proper way to save the world, and those two people are H. G. Wells and Lewis Carroll. The chapter ends with a nightmarish creature killing various characters and H.G. Wells and his wife, Jane, escaping through a wormhole to another world. The author does not return to that particular plotline for hundreds of pages! There are other plotlines that appear and disappear, only to be brought back and resolved much later. You have to keep track of what happened earlier in the book, though Palma does help you by reminding you of where these particular characters were and what they were doing the last time you saw them.
If you don’t like fiction starring historical characters, don’t bother with this one. The protagonists of this book are H. G. Wells (the author of War of the Worlds, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Invisible Man, among others), and his wife, Jane. Supporting characters include Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (creator of Sherlock Holmes), as well as some characters familiar to readers of The Map of Time and The Map of Space, and some brand new characters from other versions of this universe. Palma plays fair: the characters based on real people are fairly close to the historical record, though with a few twists and turns.
If you don’t like an author’s breaking the fourth wall, this book will annoy you. The author often talks directly to the reader, mentioning things that are going to happen, suggesting how the reader will react to different lines of the plot and upcoming revelations. The author recreates the voice of a narrator in a classic Victorian novel (think Dickens, or Eliot, or Hardy), and if you don’t like that particular style, you’re going to find this annoying (though Palma doesn’t do it that often). On the other hand, if you’re a fan of Victorian novels, you’ll appreciate the skill with which Palma recreates this style, and enjoy his dry sense of humor.
If you don’t like steampunk or science fiction in any form, you’ll probably not like this book. The whole premise of this book involves multiple universes, people who have the ability to jump from one universe to another, and it’s all set in different versions of Victorian England, including one in which there’s a werewolf, and one in which there’s a special unit of Scotland Yard dedicated to investigating supernatural phenomena. If you have a taste for steampunk, this book will be right up your alley, and if you’ve never read steampunk, this series would be a fun introduction.
If you want a predictable narrative, this is absolutely the wrong book for you. Whenever you think you know where the plot is going, something wholly unexpected happens. Even if you’ve read the first two books in the series (which isn’t necessary in order to enjoy this book), and you think you know how this author’s mind works, there are still twists and turns in the narrative that will startle you and delight you (this is a series of books where I’ve laughed aloud in delight at the way a plot resolves itself). These are not the “jump the shark” kinds of twists, either, where you feel the author is putting in a twist just for the sake of a twist; these are organic (if a little off the wall) and make perfect sense in the context of this world.
If you think happy endings are insipid or stupid, you probably won’t get full enjoyment from this book. And yes, that is a spoiler, but one I don’t mind giving. This is not the kind of book that ends with everybody miserable, nor is it the type of book where the ending leaves you scratching your head, trying to figure out exactly WHAT happened. One of the things I love most about these books is the author’s ability to wrap things up and make an ending that not only resolves everything, but makes it work and leaves the characters (and the reader) in a good place. Along the way, you have to have faith the author is going to pull all this together, even though it seems impossible that the story of the female werewolf, the invisible man, the old lady who goes to seances, the Book of Chaos of the title, and the strange things appearing and disappearing in mirrors could possibly co-exist in the same book, let alone all twist together to make a coherent narrative, but, trust me, that’s exactly what happens.
If you’re not one of those people, and you want a spellbinding, mind-boggling book that keeps you turning the pages with delight and anticipation, then you could hardly do better than to read The Map of Chaos. You don’t need to read the previous two books in the series, though you will enjoy certain details of this one better if you’ve read them. Dive right in and see the universe in a new way!