Wednesday, August 10, 2022

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Title: The Cartographers
Series: n/a
Author: Peng Shepherd
Source/Format: Purcahsed; Hardcover
More Details: Contemporary Fantasy
Publisher/Publication Date: William Morrow; March 15, 2022

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Synopsis from Goodreads...
What is the purpose of a map? Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map. But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable and exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence... because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way. But why? To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret and discovers the true power that lies in maps...

Peng Shepherd’s The Cartographers was one of my most anticipated reads of the year. Right from the start, I was intrigued by the premise—the maps, the reason for Nell’s firing, and what it had to do with her father’s eventual death. This book gave me everything I was looking for; the kind of slow moving story where the details are in the history. Told through alternating chapters, set between the past and present, The Cartographers is a new favorite.

In a way The Cartographers kind of reminded me of Piranesi. Both were contemporary fantasies set in modern times, heavy on secrets, light on magical elements, but thoroughly engrossing reads. The magical aspects tweaked reality in minute ways—just enough to give the story something of an edge, and explained just enough to be logical for the book—but it wasn’t a hard magic system (and it didn’t have to be) for the story to work.

Peng Shepherd’s writing style offered an easy entry into the book, and my instant intrigue toward the synopsis carried over to when I actually started reading. There was something of a somber tone to the story mixed in with a mystery and academic themes. But, with as many secrets the characters had, I knew pretty early on what kind of story I was in for. And it was great!

Part of what made the story for me were the characters. Nell had every right to be angry over what happened, but I could easily see how her suspicions and the mystery of the map could end up consuming her life. And I know the story was laser-focused on Nell, her family, and lots and lots of maps (some far more important than others). But the secondary cast was an interesting bunch, and I wished there was a little more about their lives outside the main events of the story; particularly for the time skip—I was so curious about what they were up to too. That being said, it didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the story.

The Cartographers was a book about ambition, secrets, lies, broken bonds, and maps. The synopsis asks, “What is the purpose of a map?” The characters and the story grappled with that question. The conclusion, I think, provided an answer that brought the story to a satisfying end.
 

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