The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd was a standalone, contemporary Book of the Month Selection that I rated 4.0/5.0 stars. I also read The Paris Apartment this month and that one was scored higher. Compared to all 20+ BOTM reads I’ve finished so far, Cartographers felt as if it was meant for a higher educated reader with a larger vocabulary. The author wrote in a more intellect way so sometimes I felt dumb, despite having a master’s degree. It was so obvious how much research the author did and or knew about this topic.
What surprised me in this novel was that Nell’s story, set in 2022, was third person past tense. And then we ended up having 6+ POV from secondary characters reflecting on their past (first person).
In chapter one, we learned that Nell, a young woman, unhappy with her current job, wanted a real cartography profession but it was slim pickings. On top of that her father just passed away surprisingly at his office in the library downtown and there seemed to be a bit of mystery behind the story. Was there foul play? You’ll find out soon.
So, after I finished chapter two, I was desperately hoping that the secret portfolio her father had hidden in his desk would reveal some magical world that Nell would learn about. (By the way, I don’t usually read blurbs before reading a book, so maybe this was already known to y’all.)
The interior formatting was super fun because I love when books have little pictures and maps and symbols inside. It made the story come to life.
In regards to the prose, after I finished part one, the writing was a little slow and dry, but the plot was interesting and entertaining to tug me along. It took me longer to finish this novel compared to others and it wasn’t something “skimmable.” There was a lot of narrative and not much white space on the page so the prose felt a bit heavier and burdensome but I enjoyed the way little clues were sprinkled one at a time. Sometimes the dialogue felt weighed down because of so much information needed given to “educate” the reader.
In chapter five, potential love interest Felix came into the picture which sounded like a “second-chance” trope from their past history. After finishing though, I need to warn y’all that this was not a romance story.
On page 87 we were introduced to the Dreamer’s Atlas here which was super intriguing and I wished I could see ALL the maps visually that the group created.
In chapter nine, we were given a much needed 48 hour countdown to figure things out that would make things feel more tense and increase the suspense. Also, the Narnia vibes were amazing here! Another comp it reminded me of was National Treasure.
“You can’t find a place that doesn’t exist.”
We started Part 3 at the halfway mark labeled “The Town.” I stopped keeping track of the points of view because at that point I was pretty sure each friend from her parents’ past would have one to tell their story and fill in more of the missing blanks. There was so many delicious betrayals and drama within the friendships. Yet, the flashbacks made me feel more involved in the past story instead of the present with Nell.
“You keep my secret, and I’ll keep yours.”
So the explanation at the ending felt a tiny bit like Titanic. Where if they had tried just a little bit harder everything could’ve been fine and well. But I was overall satisfied. Basically by the characters trying to prevent xyz from happening is what causes xyz to happen. Which is ironic. Also, the story was predictable for me. Around the midpoint, I had correctly guessed who did what and why and wanted a bit more of a twist, but was still satisfied.
“Maps were love letters written to times and places their markers had explored.”
Nell was a kick-ass character who needed to learn the truth about her past, but her character arc didn’t seem to fully resolve itself for what she needed to learn. The open ending gave me hope, but she still continued on the same choices/path throughout the novel instead of “changing” her ways. I enjoyed the theme of maps bringing people together.
In regards to inclusivity, I don’t recall much diversity of ethnicities, but shades of skin seemed to be left purposefully ambiguous. I also don’t remember any obvious LGBTQ characters.