The “Trilogia Victoriana” by Félix J. Palma has just had its second title, The Map of the Sky, released in paperback and I had the pleasure of devouring it the past few days. So far, the novels have had the same basic premise; that in an alternate Victorian age, H.G. Wells comes face-to-face with elements from his novels. Not just people and places, but concepts, too: like time travel and alien invasions. The first novel, The Map of Time, was one bewildering literary puzzle after another, with whip-smart prose, engaging characters and a mischievous narrator. It kept you guessing from beginning to end. The Map of the Sky is different, very different, in both form and feel. It is split into three parts, ala its predecessor, but the stories it tells are more harrowing, deeper, and less manic. Palma’s verbal prowess remains, but he’s not out to pull the wool over the reader’s eyes this time around — instead, he’s trying his best to make everything very clear. The straightforwardness is almost jarring at first, when you first come to realize that there isn’t necessarily an M. Night Shyamalanesque twist to look out for. But those literary games could only have worked once to work well. Palma wisely chooses to grow his world and expand his characters instead of relying on trickery and subterfuge this time around.
The story begins with famous sci-fi author H.G. Wells once again agreeing to meet with an overbearing writer-wannabe fan who has penned a terrible sequel to Wells’ The War of the Worlds, paralleling a similar occurrence in The Map of Time. There are lots of parallels in The Map of the Sky, actually, like Part Two following a lovelorn couple, and Part Three piecing all the bits together. This time around though, rather than contending with the specter of time travel inspired by his own The Time Machine, Wells is forced to confront the reality of a violent alien invasion, as in The War of the Worlds.
Each part is a gripping slice of the whole this time around: a claustrophobic alien encounter in part one leads to a rather unconventional marriage proposal in the form of a request for the recreation of Wells’ Martian attack in part two, while part three deals with the repercussions from both of these events. It’s not the same flavor or the same precise style as The Map of Time, even though all of the events in book two are for the most part sequential to and influenced by that story. Fans of the first might miss the barbed commentary from the narrator (it’s still there, just less prominent) and the feeling that while the stakes always seemed high, they very rarely were. In this darker, more bleak story, the stakes are very high. And the consequences very real.
It won’t be for everyone, and perhaps might turn off fans of the original, but for those who are on-board with the author’s story, mythos, and his enchanting, effortless command of the language, it’s a very worthy successor.