Book reviews / Fantasy

Book review: The Cartographers

I really wanted to like this book, as I do love the ‘this reality but something different and magical’ element, and I also really loved the author’s previous novel. However, I don’t think it worked for me for a few reasons that I’ll get into.

The plot is fairly straightforward: There is unresolved business between estranged father and daughter, Daniel and Nell, after he is found dead at his desk. She wants to figure out what was important about a mysterious map, which was also the cause of their estrangement. Cue, mysterious people from his past, an ex-boyfriend, and a mysterious and shadowy villain. All very fine.

I think what put me against the novel from the very beginning was the complete incredulous need to buy into the fact that somehow her father could keep her from getting a job anywhere in her field (cartography). It’s just so improbable. Even her getting fired from her job originally (she was an intern at New York Public Library and he was employed there), also completely ridiculous. I know you have to somehow buy these things, but it was such a pivotal part of the book that it grated me every time it was mentioned (and it was mentioned A LOT). There are actual laws that would mean this is impossible, and no one is ever respected *so much* that they can prevent someone getting employed, even if its a small field. It just made me annoyed from the very beginning. If you can buy that, or don’t let employment law infringement on your enjoyment, then you’ll be fine.

The other thing that annoyed me was that there was no explanation for the main ‘magic’ of the book. Maybe there doesn’t have to be, but it was so unremarked upon that it felt like an absence. As it was supposed to be this world, the lack of speculation was very odd? Like why not say something nonsense about quantum or something like that, I don’t know.

Finally, I didn’t really like the characters all that much? There was nothing to dislike, it’s just that none of them were really compelling to me. So I had a very flat response to anything, including the big reveal at the end (which, I also found annoying, but I won’t spoil it). Nell is fine, but she’s basically a one note character. And the father’s friend and their history also just seemed entirely improbable that I didn’t connect to them either.

Basically, it felt like there were lots of interesting ideas and characters but they all felt vaguely one dimensional and shallow. I wish there had been more to the whole thing. I wish they had used the interesting magic gimmick in more interesting ways. There was a lot of lead up to what was a very obvious gimmick and it could have been used in a better, more mysterious way during the first half of the novel.

Anyway, I’m sad I didn’t like it as much as I wanted to. I think lots of people will like it and I just got annoyed by the realities of employment law to overlook some of the other flaws. Oh well.

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