The CartographersThe Cartographers by Peng Shepherd
My rating: 4/5 cats
One StarOne StarOne StarOne Star

fulfilling my 2022 goal to read one book each month that was not published in my country that i wanted badly enough to have a copy shipped to me from abroad and then…never read.

this wasn’t an appropriate book for this particular challenge, but i will nestle my explanation ’bout that beneath a spoiler tag for easy skippability because i know it’s pretty self-indulgent to dwell on such an irrelevant matter, but i am powerless to resist my need to justify my LIFE CHOICES. come into my confessional, or don’t.

View Spoiler »

okay, that’s sorted. now to the book.

i initially gave this five stars cats, but i brought it down to a four because five stars cats puts it on the same level as The Book of M, which it is not.

it’s a completely different beast than my very-beloved The Book of M, which is haunting and measured and examines huge themes of identity, community, and memory. The Cartographers is more of a romp—very fast-paced and zippy, very light in tone. and at first i appreciated its zippiness as a contrast to the gravitas of The Book of M, because it showcases the breadth of shepherd’s range. but while i’m sad to see so many negative reviews of this, i can’t disagree with some of the points being made against it. this one doesn’t go so deep. and the relationships between the characters are not particularly complex. and there are, perhaps, too many characters. and it leaves itself open to a lot of questions about why characters did or didn’t do things that seem like pretty obvious ways to avoid decades of headaches. it’s a breezy adventure story, and i loved that about it, but it doesn’t ultimately stick to yer ribs.

still, although the character motivations and decisions are somewhat murky and invite “why, though” scrutiny, that’s true of any fairy tale fantasy, which is how i’m choosing to think of this one—just a sparkling bit of magical realism that you can enjoy on that level. dissecting this one won’t bring you any joy. i’m not saying people shouldn’t have questions or are wrong to want something with import and resonance, and to them, i can confidently say that The Book of M will scratch that itch. this one is a bit more surface-level enjoyment, and i’m okay with that.

it’s light, it’s lovely. there are some sad bits in it, but there’s no time spent on emotional fallout—each setback is briskly dealt with and the story’s energies are refocused on the obsessive hunt, the discovery, the drive towards answers.

The Book of M is weightier, more profound and sad and oozing with meaningful themes. i recommended it to a friend recently and she started to read it, but said it felt too close to home, quarantine-wise, and she had to put it down. which i get. this is the opposite of that—it’s an adventure story built out of pure escapist wonder, imagination, and possibilities, which is the kind of thing i appreciate more in the nowtimes, when i find myself craving something swift-but-satisfying that’ll relieve some of the pressure of existing in a world on fire.

i love the idea of paper towns—imaginary places included by cartographers on their maps to prevent other mapmakers from copying their work—and shepherd’s afterword, in which she divulges her inspiration for the idea of a paper town becoming real is some absolutely charming real-life magic.

The Book of M lives in a very special place in my heart that this didn’t come close to approaching, but i enjoyed the hell out of reading it and knowing now that shepherd can write ALL KINDS OF BOOKS is thrilling to me, so i’m excited to devour whatever she comes up with next.

oh my god, when did this cover drop? it is gorgeous and almost makes up for the yearlong publishing delay.

i loved The Book of M, i loved The Future Library, i am so prepared to fall in love with this one.

and i DID! review to come!

read my book reviews on goodreads

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