Title: The Cartographers
Author: Peng Shepard
Release Date: 17/2/2022
E.S.C.A.P.E Score: 50
(see below for breakdown)
I received a free eARC copy from Orion ,via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
There are some maps you can lose yourself in… Nell Young has lived her life in and around maps. Her father, Dr. David Young, was one of the most respected cartographers in the world. But this morning he was found dead – or murdered? – in his office at the New York Public Library.*
Nell hadn’t spoken to her father in years, ever since he fired her after an argument over a seemingly worthless highway roadside map. A map which was mass-produced – and every copy of which is now being found and destroyed. But why?
To answer that question, Nell will embark on a dangerous journey into the heart of a conspiracy beyond belief, the secrets behind her family, and the true power that lies in maps . . .
This was just magical. Honestly its really difficult to describe how beautiful this book is while remaining spoiler free, but I will say if you are the kind of reader that pours over beautiful maps of worlds found in the beginnings of fantasy books, who flicks back to see where the characters are traveling too, maybe even has a couple of fictional worlds decorating your home, this is the book for you. If you are the kind of person that sees the beauty in paper maps this is the book for you.
This is an urban fantasy/magical realism novel but at heart it is a mystery, that is beautifully character driven as it explores family, love, friendship, loss, family secrets and lies. Told from the perspective of Nell, whom had become estranged from her father, after his death delves deeper into his work in hopes of resurrecting her own career. Nell is a fantastic character to view her father’s life from as her own enthusiasm and curiosity match that of the reader to keep delving and find out more and the events of her families past take a step into the realm of the peculiar. This also leant itself to the interjection of snippets of ‘personal recollections’ from various important people throughout Nell’s father’s life.
I really liked how these flashbacks built the story and revealed the mystery while the modern day portions built up the mystery and the tension. I also liked the romance that served to give more context to Nell other than the reader’s perspective into this group of friends and what they had discovered. The romance was cute and really gave Nell more dimension while not distracting from the overall plot. On a personal note I have to highlight that this is another book focusing on the lives of higher level academics. All of the characters we encounter have PhDs and are portrayed as emotional beings. To often the media forgets that there are people behind the credentials and that they function just like every other person with a range of emotions from love to grief, to clumsiness and confusion. It was just so nice to read, especially as a person who holds a PhD myself as is just as broken as the rest of humanity its nice to see a book where the PhD holders act like actual people and not academic obsessed robots.
The concept for the plot and the source of the mystery was just fantastic it added just enough magic to tip this over into the fantasy genre but I still think many none SFF readers may enjoy this one. There is something mystical about paper maps and Shepard really brings that wonder and beauty to life in the descriptions of them in this book. I really liked that a lot of them were included in the book itself and even though I read this as an eARC I am excited to see what they look like in the hardcopy edition (I have a pre-oprder).
Shepard’s writing style is lovely, there is a beauty and floweriness to it when capturing the maps and the wonder of the New York Public Library, which the book centres itself around, but also a real feeling of authenticity when diving into the lives of those concerned. The further we dive into the secrets the more the emotions rise and they are depicted beautifully throughout. I found the prose really absorbing. I do wish the characters were slightly more distinctive from one another, they tended to blend together a little particularly as they were all academics from the same field of study that when they discussed the maps they just blended into the same narrative voice instead of holding distinct personalities. This made them a little hard to distinguish when we switched out of Nell’s perspective and into one of the flashbacks.
Overall I adored this book, I loved The Cartographers and getting to learn the mystery behind them, both the magical and the emotional. I think it will be enjoyable for those that like character driven stories or light fantasy.