The Cartographers – by Peng Shepherd – independent book review – Fiction

Oprah Daily calls this novel “reminiscent of the work of Dan Brown” and I think that’s a good characterization. A page turner that doesn’t quite deliver on depth of content. Awarded four stars on Goodreads. (That’s QUITE generous!)

THE CARTOGRAPHERS is a wordy, but well-crafted mystery that celebrates the obscure world of cartography and the geeks who devote their lives to its study. Only it also contains a bit of magical realism — something that surprised me. And not in a good way.

Nell Young is the only child of two brilliant cartographers. Her mother died when Nell was a child but her father now heads the prestigious Map Division at the New York City Public Library (NYPL). Following in her parents’ footsteps, Nell winds up working for her father at the NYPL. Although a bit distant, Nell and her father get along well enough. She is even able to convince him to hire her boyfriend Felix so they can work alongside one another.

Nell is ambitious and eager to prove herself equal to her parents’ reputations. So she’s looking to make a discovery of her own that will get her noticed by fellow scholars. She thinks she finds it in an old storage area of the library — a discarded, fold-up road map dating from the 1930s. Nell is convinced there’s something special about this map.

Before GPS, there were folding road maps.

So, she is totally blind-sided by her father’s reaction. He is SO insistent the map is worthless and SO hostile to his daughter’s hunch that he publicly fires her from the library and the two stop speaking. Now, no one will hire Nell to work any where close to the field of cartography.

Seven years later, her father dies suddenly while working at his desk. When Nell is notified she is once again brought into his orbit, which kindles her old curiosity about that 1930s road map. Her questioning and perseverance lead her to a mysterious group called The Cartographers, known primarily for bidding exorbitant amounts for seemingly worthless maps.

NYC Main Public Library

Most of the novel is about Nell’s quest to find out the truth about the map, about her Dad, and who the cartographers are. There are a host of secondary characters to meet. Even a rekindled romance. But not until the very end of the book will all your questions be answered.

Author Peng Shepherd
Photo by Rachel Crittenden, from the author’s Website

Be prepared for multiple narrators (all of whom speak in the same voice) and a non-linear time-frame. Overall, a fun book to read, though I am not a fan of magical realism. I enjoyed this one more as a mystery. The book felt longer than its 400 pages. But it’s entertaining!

More about the author, Peng Shepherd.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s