I was more than 2/3 done with this book, when I sat down at the dining room table and described the whole thing to my sister. In about 10 minutes. The way I described it, both of us agreed that it sounded very interesting. And it was. interesting. but it wasn't thrilling. exciting. moving.
I tend to stay away from spoilers in reviews because I feel like... reviews with spoilers (or comprised largely of spoilers and not much else) are only devices to, effectually, "preach to the choir" (or find out if the choir agrees with you). So with that in mind, let me tell you what I liked, with an understanding that I'm treading delicately so as not to spoil the many twists and turns and discoveries that make this book worth reading.
The book is well written, there's no question about that. Palma managed to write an essentially historical fiction, that just happened to include discussions about and discoveries involving time travel. Sort of. And it's that "sort of" that was probably most frustrating to me. The novel was more historical fiction (i.e., more history) than I had really signed up for, and is probably more time travel than the typical historical fiction reader signs up for. Don't get me wrong, I can get behind a good historical fiction novel with the best of 'em, it just wasn't what I was expecting with a book called the Map of Time, described as this one was, and reviewed as this one was. I wanted to travel through time... and quickly! Alas, that is not the path of this book.
And yet. As I said, Palma wrote a good book. There is a lot of setting, character development, and background. And not as much action and plot-movement. But the setting, the character development, and the background were very well crafted. Palma made me not only purchase several HG Wells books after I finished the Map of Time, but I also researched Wells a bit and even continued to look into certain aspects of his life/works weeks after having finished the Map of Time. I also found myself researching the existence of other characters or events described in the book, to find out how much of what Palma wrote about was accurate, based in history, or just completely made up. Any book that makes me do extra research is an interesting book.
So it's worth reading. But the plot? let's see, how to describe without spoiling.... There are two primary stories that are told, largely separately, that are connected by the famous Mr. Wells, and perhaps by other, tenuous threads that are interesting but not the meat of the sandwich. In the first, an incredibly depressed young man sets about to end his life, much to the dismay of his nearly identical cousin. Palma starts there, but then backtracks to provide the reason, the characters, the emotion behind such a decision. And, ultimately, of course, H.G. Wells becomes involved. But to say more about that line is to spoil some of the many surprises. The Second story centers around an allegedly charming, but notably disgruntled young lady who wants more out of life than just falling in love with one of the duds available to her. Needless to say, H.G. Wells also becomes enmeshed in her story. Then there are the many side stories, back stories, and peripheral stories, each of which is complete and satisfying, yet not so plentiful or involved so as to detract from the main stories. I know. Not as much "so what's it about" as you'd like. But, as I said above, I cannot spoil a good story.
At the end of the day, the book was really good, but not great. It was very well written, intriguing, and well told. But I didn't escape completely into it. I didn't forget who I was while I was reading it. I just read it. Enjoyed it. And passed it on.
Overall, FOUR out of five stars.
Recommended for people who like historical fiction w/ a touch of time travel... or time travel, supported by a heavy base of historical fiction.