I really like the premise and general scenario of The Cartographers; you’ve got a good dose of real historical and practical map-making details along with a dose of “magical realism”. I also didn’t realize that this author was relevant to AAIPI month which May is. The general premise is that former whiz kid map scholar Nell Young who was dismissed from the famed NYPL (New York Public Library) in disgrace by her own father must now solve the mystery of her father’s murder which turns out to be connected to a major mystery about her dad’s past and also her mother whom she lost in a fire as a small child.
The idea that maps can be related to magic is not exactly new, but I like how it’s handled here with a bit of real map-making lore and history used to makes suggestions about how real a place is if it’s on or not on a map. What I didn’t like was how a lot of the character drama was handled. The former group of colleagues and friends that Nell has to work her way through to discover what happened about 30 years ago that resulted in her dad’s murder all have some interesting individual stories, but when we get to the big mysterious project that eventually causes major catastrophes past and present, there’s this big aura of the concept is more important than the people, and I really don’t like that. All of the characters are willing to sacrifice each other and/or themselves in ways that’s a major turn off, and when we get to the house where it all goes wrong, the secrets every ends up revealing in the present or past is just so stupid and often selfish, except for Bear. All the hugs and love for Bear.
The other major turn off for me was that during the big confrontation with the villain someone dies; this in itself is kind of expected, but it’s how that death is handled that annoyed me. This character plays a big part in Nell’s life (Felix’s too sort of) up to this point, and after they die, it’s like no one cares. Said character is almost immediately replaced and forgotten, and I’m not cool with that.
Even though the ending sees the villain mostly fail and more or less resolves the plot, I still don’t like the vibe that it’s all ok because it was for the love of maps. I get the scholarly geek-out, I really do, but when it means excusing all the bad past behavior and decisions from most everyone (except Swann; all love for him too), that’s just a major let down.