Here's the second of my two reviews for the May 2010 Historical Novels Review.
THE KINGDOM OF OHIO
Matthew Flaming, Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, $24.95/$31.00, 322pp, 978-0-399-15560-4
Peter Force abruptly leaves his home in Idaho, where he and his father made a living in the silver mines, arriving penniless and disoriented in New York City. He quickly finds work with the crews digging out the deep tunnels under Manhattan for the nascent subway system.
Cheri-Ann Toledo arrives, penniless and disoriented, in New York City, wandering exhausted and famished in Battery Park. When Peter's philanthropic urge brings them together, he learns Cheri-Ann's improbable story: she has traveled through time.
The narrator, whose story is surprisingly intertwined with that of Peter and Cheri-Ann, tells the tale from his place in 21st century Los Angeles, looking back across a century. We learn that Cheri-Ann is a princess, the last of the line of monarchs of the Kingdom of Ohio. Originally a land grant to French settlers during their revolution, the area around Toledo – Cheri-Ann claims – was an independent principality.
Peter agrees to help Cheri-Ann find her way home, struggling with his warring feelings – is she mad, or is she telling the truth? Either option is equally disturbing for him, and their journey takes a dangerous turn when the most powerful man of the age and the most brilliant minds of the time learn of their predicament.
The inclusion of Nicolas Tesla, Thomas Edison, and J.P. Morgan were interesting, but felt somewhat forced. The philosophical questions and drama at the center of Peter and Cheri-Ann's struggle did not necessarily require the inclusion of these Gilded Age giants. Flaming's rendering of turn-of-the-century Idaho and New York City is believable, almost seamless, the details interesting and never shoe-horned in.
The mix of tenses and points of view is a bit disorienting at first, but the story picks up as the mystery deepens. This is not only a mystery, however. It's a rumination on memory, history, love, and Self. Overall, this is a very well written, thoughtful, and interesting book. Recommended.