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Originally published Saturday, June 25, 2011 at 7:04 PM

Book review

'The Map of Time': Heartbroken English aristocrat time-travels to prevent a murder

"The Map of Time" by Spanish novelist Felix J. Palmas is a baggy but imaginative look at what might happen if H.G. Wells' novella "The Time Machine" inspired a real device.

Special to The Seattle Times

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'The Map of Time'

by Felix J. Palmas, translated by Nick Caistor

Atria, 612 pp., $26

The first of a projected trilogy, "The Map of Time" is an ambitious and generous example of the literary genre known as steampunk. Author Felix J. Palmas uses the basic ingredients of steampunk — fantasy, mystery, ripping adventure and Victorian-era high-tech — to marvelous effect.

In this book, the first by Palmas to appear in English, the young Spanish writer wonders: What if H.G. Wells' 1895 novella "The Time Machine" inspired a real device? And what if that device were put to commercial use?

It would be a smash success, naturally, and its owner would be the toast of London. So it is — as "The Map of Time" opens, none other than Queen Victoria has already made a trip into the future in the marvelous device.

Andrew Harrington desperately wants to take a journey of his own. Much to his family's horror, the young aristocrat fell in love with a prostitute, only to see her murdered by Jack the Ripper. Years later, nearly suicidal with grief, Harrington pleads to be taken back in time to prevent the killing. But there's a problem: The machine can only go forward.

The book's loosely connected three parts get far more complex (and outlandish) from there. They involve, among much else, a tribe in deepest Africa with the power to open tunnels in time, the dashing hero of a future war and a number of real-life characters (including Jules Verne, the Elephant Man, Bram Stoker and Wells himself).

Palmas' book is baggy, and its chatty, omniscient narrator is a little too prone to digression. An editorial trim might have helped. Nonetheless, Palmas writes with panache and good humor, and he's cooked up a crackerjack story.

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