Monday 14 March 2022


Book review: The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd [blog tour]

Who doesn't love a good map? Even in the age of sat nav and mobile phones giving us very precise directions about which turns to take, there is still a place for physical maps in the world. The average person may not be using them frequently in their everyday lives anymore, but folding out a map and physically tracing directions has a certain kind of transportive magic to it, doesn't it? That's the premise of The Cartographers, sort of. 

Nell Young is a cartographer. She grew up loving the art of maps, and was destined to follow in the footsteps of her father, who is an expert in the field and works for the New York Public Library. But when the "junk box incident" creates a rift between Nell and her father, he does everything within his power to get her discredited and removed from the industry. The only job Nell is able to get that even remotely relates to cartography, is for a company that produces dime a dozen fake-vintage maps for tourists. 

But when Nell's father unexpectedly dies, she sees a glimmer of opportunity to get her foot back into the door of the NYPL. Not only that, but when she goes through his belongings she finds the map that caused the fight between the two of them all those years ago. It's a worthless commercially produced gas station map, so why did her father keep it safe in the place where he would normally keep the most valuable of maps? When Nell starts to investigate she encounters secret collectors, placing that shouldn't exist, and unravels the seemingly impossible...

Maps and books are a match made in heaven. Maps can add so much more depth to a story, intricate drawings of long-lost kingdoms, far-away lands, or futuristic cities bringing these fictional locations to life on the page. And so a book that was all about maps and their magical properties sounded right up my street, no pun intended. 

And I absolutely loved where author Peng Shepherd took the story. Taking the time to establish the world, very much like our own but with some distinct differences hidden at its edges, and the characters playing a crucial part within it first, before changing it beyond my wildest imagination. The journey to get there was difficult yet exciting, filled with unexpected moments and wrong turns, but in the end the destination lived up to all my expectations – not unlike the experience a real-life map can bring. 

Nell was a fantastic protagonist. Smart, likeable, but not in an annoying way. As readers we are on the journey of discovery with her and rooting for her to uncover the mystery. And, personally, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough to get an understanding of where we were heading. I had an inkling of what was laying ahead but even though that part of the story wasn't wholly unexpected, it was still such a great revelation when we got there. And the complexly woven storyline strands around that crucial plot point were immensely satisfying to uncover and bring together. 

The Cartographers is wonderful tribute to the art and science behind the creation of maps in its many forms. A clear love shines through the story for the meticulously drawn lines and settlements, and the magic that lies between them, which only reveals itself to those that spend hours, days, and weeks getting lost within these scaled down renderings of the real world. Not only that, but this fantasy adventure, murder mystery, and family drama wrapped into one, is also an incredibly gripping read. Once we got a glimpse of what's possible in Peng Shepherd's world I didn't want to leave. And I sincerely hope that we get a chance to return to the wonderful world of the cartographers in the future. 

The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd will be published by Orion on 17 March 2022 and you can preorder your copy now from your favourite book shop.

Blog tour stops for 'The Cartographers' by Peng Shepherd

This review for 'The Cartographers' is a part of the official blog tour for the launch of the book. Make sure you check out the other stops too!

Disclaimer: This book was gifted to me by the publisher, but this has not impacted this honest review.

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