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The Kingdom of Ohio is a debut novel by Matthew Flaming and is principally set in the early years of the 20th century, the book is set in New York and includes real historical figures such as Niklas Tesla, Thomas Edison and JP Morgan. The book uses the building of the New York subway as a scaffold to build a story about time travel, the early years of the United States and the battle between Tesla and Edison.
The book is written as memories of an elderly man living in Los Angeles writing about events in his own long distant past and the two main characters in the book are a engineer called Peter Force and a beautiful American heiress called Cherie Ann Toledo. The memoirs are peppered throughout with supposed cut outs from newspaper reports, court proceedings attempting to give the book a feeling of of investigative journalism.
The book starts with a bang, the writer introduces the miner turned engineer Peter but as the recollections of an old man who clearly knew Peter decades earlier. The book gives the sense that Peter turns out to be a hugely important historical figure and his actions have been long discussed and long researched in the following years. The book is clearly aimed to mimic those non-fiction books looking at a relatively modern historical figure such as Bonnie and Clyde in which the biographies of both have been well established but the prime pieces of evidence are well spread out and take a lot of effort to collate into a linear tale. So the reader from the beginning has a feeling that the characters introduced will do something important, terrible or exciting or indeed all three at once.
Peter soon meets a young girl called Cherie who claims to be a heiress of the long forgotten Kingdom of Ohio, the use of the personal reminisces style of writing gives this writer a chance to write 10-15 pages on pure historical facts. The establishment of the Kingdom appears to be the central part of the novel and the disappearance feels like an event which will ultimately be the core of the novel.
The book appears well set up, Cherie knows or claims to know the famous inventor Nicklas Tesla, through him we meet Edison and JP Morgan and the grand plan of introducing time travel is introduced but the book dithers when it should accelerate and accelerates when a bit of character development is required. Through it all Force and Cherie becoming generic early 20th century characters who appear to be at the centre of forces out of their control, Tesla, Edison and JP Morgan appear and disappear adding little.
The biggest problem with the book is that there isn't a plot as such, there are vague mentions of the shape of the subway tunnels Tesla's electricity experiments causing paradoxes and JP Morgan's desperation to travel backwards to save his wife. The mentions are however vague, none of the characters are introduced with anything approaching passion or drive and the reader is left disappointed.
The ending to the novel is well weird; the author throws in a curve ball with a piece of information which had never been mentioned in the previous 300 pages leaving the reader angry and rather bitter that the author feels the need to confuse matters. All in all, a rather poor novel it will appeal to some and is the kind of novel which tends to do well at awards where the reader who's confused clearly hasn't understood the novel.
I'd rather have read either a piece of historical fiction or a bit of early 20th steam punk sci-fi; this is a bit of nothing really and doesn't satisfy in any way.