Men ahead of their time wrestle with the fabric of the universe.
Flaming’s debut ushers us into a mystifying world, but its intriguing premise and inherent mystery are impossible to resist. Marrying poetic prose with hints of steampunk aesthetics to an arcane, time-wrenching plot that includes a healthy dose of wistful romance, the author unleashes an absorbing adventure about warring scientists, lost princesses and the genius who created modern New York City. In the present day, an aged narrator describes his dogged research into the collision of two unlikely characters. His confession hints at narrative ambiguity (“Telling the story is easy. It’s just deciding which parts to include, finding a space to fit them all in, that gives me trouble”), but the author’s execution is sure-footed. The story within takes readers back to the turn of the century, as Peter Force arrives in Manhattan just in time to start digging the city’s newfangled subway system. Through his young protagonist’s eyes, Flaming captures a city on the cusp of technological revolution, as electricity, airships and other marvels make all futures seem possible. Peter’s work is interrupted by Cheri-Anne Toledo, refugee from a mythical Midwestern kingdom founded by a minor European royal. She blames her sudden appearance on the misfire of a device created by Nicola Tesla, the acclaimed “Sorcerer of Electricity,” which has sent her quite astray. The fantastic story line that follows revolves around the heated rivalry between Tesla and his rival, genius/patent thief Thomas Edison, who is being backed here by robber baron J.P. Morgan. “Villainy is a complicated thing, Miss Toledo,” Morgan says, revealing a plot to gamble against the future. Though not as lush as Kurt Andersen’s Heyday (2007), Flaming’s wildly inventive fantasy is more fun to read and begs to be followed to its hurtling, heart-rending end.
A marvelous fable about the worlds beneath our feet and the conspiracies that turn our heads.