Jan 11, 2010

Book Review: The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming


The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming
Hardcover: 336 pages
Science Fiction/Alternate History/Historical
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; 1st edition (December 31, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-0399155604
Review copy from the Publisher
The Burton Review Rating:3.5 stars

An incredibly original, intelligent novel-a love story set against New York City at the dawn of the mechanical age, featuring Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, and J. P. Morgan.

After discovering an old photograph, an elderly antiques dealer living in present-day Los Angeles is forced to revisit the history he has struggled to deny. The photograph depicts a man and a woman. The man is Peter Force, a young frontier adventurer who comes to New York City in 1901 and quickly lands a job digging the first subway tunnels beneath the metropolis. The woman is Cheri- Anne Toledo, a beautiful mathematical prodigy whose memories appear to come from another world. They meet seemingly by chance, and initially Peter dismisses her as crazy. But as they are drawn into a tangle of overlapping intrigues, Peter must reexamine Cheri-Anne's fantastic story. Could it be that she is telling the truth and that she has stumbled onto the most dangerous secret imaginable: the key to traveling through time?

Set against the mazelike streets of New York at the dawn of the mechanical age, Peter and Cheri-Anne find themselves wrestling with the nature of history, technology, and the unfolding of time itself.

This is one of those books where a simple review like this one is not going to do it justice. And the plot! Amazing weavings of intricacies, fact and fiction, and how much to divulge here? It is such a refreshingly unique story, and so unexpected as well. It was one of those glorious times where I had to scour the Internet to find more details, and more proof.. of the lost Kingdom of Ohio. Of course I was disappointed, because it is all made up, otherwise known as an alternate history. It was so odd because of the footnotes at the bottom, the references to 'real' documents.. it was really quite ingenious.

Yes indeed folks.. the same time the USA was declaring their independence from England in 1776, Henri Latoledan was writing his own declaration, as an owner of his colony in Ohio, a Free Estate amid the new world.. the government decides that it would be for the greater good to obliterate the Kingdom..Was it true? It is at the heart of Cheri-Anne Toledo's very existence, though, so we can't just ignore it. Cheri-Anne meets Peter Force around 1901, and slowly explains her story of a portal and how she came from the royal family of The Kingdom of Ohio. Sounds simple?

Confusing and mind boggling it was.. narrated by an elderly man who is not having much success at getting to the point of the story. "What is this story about?" went through my mind for several pages. The narrator tells us his story, then comes back talking about himself and whether he opened up his antique shop that week.. then he goes back to Peter Force.
The elderly man is writing his story because "there is nothing else he can do" about Peter Force who reached New York in 1901 to work on the construction of the new subway lines, and we witness what it was like to be caught between the olden ways and the new mechanical age. Peter befriends a co-worker, Paolo, who had once helped build the recent Brooklyn Bridge. Paolo becomes invaluable when it is a race against time for Peter and Cheri.

Cheri-Anne is in search of her past, and is believed to hold pertinent knowledge as to the existence of time travel. She meets with J.P. Morgan and Thomas Edison, and Nikola Tesla in regards to the possibilities of time travel, even while Peter is doubtful of her origins. The building of the new subway tunnels could be a portal.. and Peter is caught in the middle. Along with the mentions of several historical figures, the author blends smidgens of romance, suspense and history into a strangely intermingling web that traps you within its story, although you still cannot make sense of the truth of reality.

And if she is rational, he tells himself, there should be some set of words that will make everything come clear. But what those words might be, he can't begin to guess.
"But people don't travel through time." He shakes his head. "Have you thought maybe you're wrong about all this? That maybe you imagined it?"
"Of course." She looks away, wondering why his disbelief -exactly what she herself would feel in his place - still wounds her.

The novel is full of twists and turns, starts and stops, but is full of promise. It seemed to climb towards a climax but instead it simply plateaued, and sort of just hung there. It held my interest though it did not deliver completely, and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I hope that this author, Matthew Flaming, writes another novel that is perhaps not so hard to keep up with, and I will definitely read his next work to see what conspiracies and webs he has woven again. Minus the many confusing multiple mysteries of plot and characters involved here, I enjoyed the way the author wrote the story, but the ending does not tie anything up and we are still left unknowing. But it kept me intrigued the whole way there.
For those readers more interested in Nikola Tesla, please see my review and spotlight post on The Invention of Everything Else, by Samantha Hunt.