As an old man looks through a recent shipment of magazines for his Los Angeles antiques store, he spots a 1900 newspaper clipping with a photo of two men and a woman in New York City. The man is compelled to tell the story of how those people—Peter Force, Cheri-Anne Toledo, and Nicola Tesla—more than a hundred years ago, found themselves together on that particular day and what happened later. The telling involves several changes in point of view, at least three time periods, a trip across the country, and the crossing of class and educational boundaries.
So what is Matthew Flaming's The Kingdom of Ohio all about? It's about technology and invention and the people who control them. It's about the underlying forces of the universe. It's about love. And, finally, it's about the nature of time.
Overall, the novel works on many levels, especially when focusing on the life of Peter Force and how he ended up working on machinery for the construction of the New York City subway system. The rise and fall of the Kingdom of Ohio and Flaming's take on Tesla, Edison, and Morgan (reminiscent of the novel Ragtime) were imaginative and interesting.
The changing points of view and time frames smoothly interlocked. The reader is never confused, although once in while a change was unexpected or startling. Parts of Peter Force's ultimate fate were easy to figure out, as intended. On the other hand, the very end—which made me chuckle—was a surprise, but I was kicking myself for not seeing it earlier.
What didn't work as well were the love story and some of Cheri-Anne's experiences in New York. It wasn't really clear why Peter would fall for her and be so completely drawn into her world. And, in fact, Cheri-Anne was sometimes less solid than the more minor characters. This was probably a conscious decision, but I'm not sure it was a completely successful device.
Flaming has written an impressive debut novel that is difficult to put down. You'll be drawn to both Peter Force and the old man. You'll find it easy to envision the frontier west and the working man's world of the city. It is a fun read that shouldn't be missed, especially by those who like a little bit of fantasy or alternate history.
See also my feature post of The Kingdom of Ohio.
The Kingdom of Ohio at Amazon
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Published by Putnam/Amy Einhorn, 2009
Challenges: New Author, What's in a Name, Global, Amy Einhorn, 100+
Source: Review copy (see review policy)