It’s a world where Napoleon won the Battle of Waterloo and England is under the control of France. Cambridge is Pont du Cam and those who speak English are looked down on. This is the world Joe Tournier awakens in. After fainting in a railway station, it seems nothing he recalls is quite right. His one clue is a postcard of a lighthouse with a cryptic message in his pocket.
The train had just come in. The platform was full of people looking slow and stiff from the journey, all moving towards the concourse. The sweet carbon smell of coal smoke was everywhere. Because it was only just light outside, the round electric lamps of the station game everything a pale glow, and cast long, hazy shadows; even the steam had a shadow, a sort of shy devil just trying to decide whether to be solid of not.
Joe had no idea what he was doing there. ~Pg. 1
After trying to adjust to his new reality, he is offered a job to repair the machinery at a lighthouse — one which he accepts quickly. The Eilean Mor light is in the Outer Hebrides, a string of rocky outcroppings on the Atlantic side of Scotland. Lashed by constant wind and rough seas, the inhospitable location is normally manned by a three-person crew charged with keeping the light burning bright. When the people in a village within sight notice it has gone dark, they send for help.
The lighthouse is found abandoned with no clue what became of the keepers. Joe determines to at least get the machinery working again and wait until new keepers can arrive. But by traveling through some pillars between Eilean Mor and the mainland, Joe finds himself 93 years in the past — and with the knowledge of how to defeat Napoleon at Waterloo.
Natasha Pulley is adept at playing by her own rules. My biggest issue with science fiction or fantasy books is when the author establishes guidelines but then strays from them. Pulley is fastidious in her world-building and balances the back-and-forth perfectly. Even the inclusion of real-life disappearances from Eilean Mor lends credibility to the entire premise. Hers may not be the most likely explanation, but her imagined version is consistent with the facts of the case.
As far as I am concerned, Natasha Pulley can do no wrong. I have loved every one of her books and this is no exception. She has an ability to make the fantastical seem not only realistic, but casually so. In her world, time travel and parallel universes are perfectly reasonable.
My thanks to Bloomsbury for the review copy.
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (May 25, 2021)
Hardcover: 448 pages