All Nell Young ever wanted was to be a cartographer as esteemed as her parents. But after a disastrous argument over whether a box of maps were junk or not, Nell’s father fires her. In one day Nell loses her father, her boyfriend, and her career.
Seven years later, her father is found dead and in his possession is one of the maps her father insisted was worth less than garbage. Trying to find out why he hid this map in particular, Nell discovers it’s far from worthless—it’s actually extremely rare, worth a fortune, and she may have the only copy.
Instead of providing answers, every clue leads to more answers. But Nell doesn’t have the luxury of time. With a mysterious collector hunting the map down and the police questioning why Nell is at the center of several crimes, she needs to discover the secrets of the map and how they tie to her family, before the map is destroyed and takes all its answers with it.
“What is the purpose of a map?”
It’s a question that seems fairly straightforward on the surface. A map leads you in a specific direction, but it also opens the world of possibility to endless destinations. Shepherd captures this magic by entwining threads of plot throughout the novel, weaving them together so that even though we see multiple stories, they all pull us towards the same spectacular end.
And what a fantastic end! As the past and the present sped forward, I was absolutely breathless as I turned the pages. The disasters and secrets had been mounting, but Shepherd keeps everything—EVERYTHING—so contained that I was practically dancing out of my chair trying to figure all the details out.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
One of my favorite things about this book is that while it’s a thriller, and there are a few off-the-page deaths, the story never stops feeling magical. It’s a dark, thrilling, and at times terrifying story. But I never stopped feeling the wonder of the world Shepherd created. I wanted to slip into the pages and walk around with Nell. The depth of emotions rendered every character with a flush of vivid reality. It was impossible to not feel their hope, their anguish, their love, and their hurt. Also I would DIE for Humphrey 😭🥰
“It was not a map alone that made a place real. It was the people.”
I don’t know if I would describe this book as dark academia. But, if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I know the rules for dark academia to begin with. This is academic based but it’s not set in a school. So maybe dark scholar is more accurate. Or maybe it doesn’t matter at all because the plot and premise are nerdy AF. And I am here for it. The details, history, and philosophies regarding cartography are absolutely delightful and add so much texture to this extremely rich world.
There is a lot I could rave about, but like most books, discovering the details on the journey is the best part of reading. If you love characters that will make you laugh and cry and want to shake them when they’re being stubborn, you’ll find a ton to love with these nerdy little misfits. The plot is immersive, mysterious, and perfectly paced. The blend between past and present is really well done, with each piece adding clues while never giving too much away.
The Cartographers is a book that will appeal to a ton of readers for very different reasons. And I think that’s what makes it so special. It’s surprising, and comforting, and satisfying for a multitude of reasons. I think it’s the type of book that people will experience differently and surprise each other when they talk about it. Shepherd raises a lot of questions about technology, family dynamics, ambition, regret, obsession, and finding magic in the mundane. But she never answers them. She lets them sit with the reader, allowing us to look at how the characters behaved around these various moral quandaries and decide for ourselves what we think.
I highly recommend this book. Five stabby stars!
Thank you William Morrow Books and Turn the Page Tours for my copy and including me on their awesome bookstagram tour. There’s still time to enter their incredible giveaway! Click my Instagram post below for more details and for your chance to win one of TEN finished copies👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
What is the purpose of a map?
Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.
But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence… because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.
To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…
Peng Shepherd was born and raised in Phoenix, Arizona, where she rode horses and trained in classical ballet, and has lived in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, London, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, and Las Vegas.
Her first novel, The Book of M, won the 2019 Neukom Institute for Literary Arts Award for Debut Speculative Fiction, and was chosen as a best book of the year by Amazon, Elle, Refinery29, and The Verge, as well as a best book of the summer by the Today Show and NPR On Point. A graduate of the NYU MFA program, Peng is the recipient of a 2020 fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Elizabeth George Foundation’s emerging writers 2016 grant.