The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd

Throughout The Cartographers, by Peng Shepherd, characters frequently ask each other, “What is the purpose of a map?” Answers range from the obvious (to find things) to the philosophical (to orient ourselves in relation to the world) to the near mystical. This book takes us deep into the world of rare maps and cartography to deliver a mystery that is a lot stranger than anyone could’ve ever expected. I love a story that starts in an archive and ends up somewhere magical.

Nell Young hasn’t worked at her beloved New York Public Library’s map division for seven years, ever since the “Junk Box Incident.” Before the incident, Nell interned there under her father’s direction. She got to work with rare, pre-modern maps along with her boyfriend. Then she finds a box labeled junk in the backlog of uncataloged donations to the library. Along with a handfull of very valuable maps, Nell finds a mass produced map that is so worthless it has to have been put in the box by mistake. Strangely, her father is incensed by the appearance of the worthless map and fires Nell. After seven years of exile, Nell is called back to the NYPL with news that her father has died.

Things start to get very weird after Nell visits the library to visit an old family friend/colleague. (The map world is apparently very small.) Reminiscing at her father’s desk leads to a rediscovery of that old junk map, a map that turns out to be the source of someone’s deadly obsession. The Cartographers turns into a steeple chase at this point: underground map sellers, suspicious black cars, break ins, murders, creepy tech moguls, family secrets. It all culminates in a secret that delighted me, but that I’m definitely not going to tell you about because it would ruin the book.

The Cartographers is a treat for readers who enjoy mystery and whimsy with an academic flavor and some outstanding character development.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

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