Friday, September 16, 2016

The Cartographer's Daughter

The Cartographer's Daughter
by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Recommended Ages: 13+

Legend has it the island of Joya, where Isabella has lived all her life, was once a floating island paradise. Then the Governor came, closing off the seaport city of Gromera from the other coastal villages, banishing anyone who opposed him to the wild interior of the island, and forbidding the population even to swim in the bay lest they escape his iron-fisted rule. One day a peasant girl, a school friend of Isabella's, is found horribly killed in the Governor's walled orchard. A riot breaks out, which the Governor and his men violently put down. After the fracas, Isabella angrily blames another friend - the Governor's daughter Lupe - for their classmate's death, venting her feelings about the strapping neighbor boy Pablo being imprisoned in the Governor's dungeon labyrinth.

Lupe vows to set things right, and disappears. This leads to another wave of repression, with both Pablo's mother and Isabella's lame, mapmaker father being added to the growing crowd in the labyrinth. Feeling responsible for this, Isabella puts on her dead brother's clothes, cuts off her braid, and passes herself off as the cartographer's son. The Governor, believing she is a boy, decides to take her along on his search for Lupe. But beyond the forests that border Gromera's territory, they find a diseased landscape, haunted by death, fierce warriors, and terrifying monsters.

Spookier still, Isabella catches glimpses of magic - for instance, in a fragment of glow-in-the-dark wood passed down through generations of her family, and in a map left behind by her late mother, that shows a different picture when moistened by the waters of a certain river. It's as if the ancient myths of the island's origin are actually true - as if a female warrior a thousand years ago really did stop a fire demon from destroying all life on Joya after he captured the island and anchored it to the bottom of the sea. And now their thousand-year bargain is up, and someone must once again make a terrible sacrifice to stop an elemental power from extinguishing all life on Joya.

Isabella's cross-dressing behavior does not stem from any boy-girl confusion. She is totally a girl-power hero in the tradition of her country's greatest hero of myth - and myths, Isabella explains to her friend Lupe, are stories so old that people think they aren't true. Isabella's complex friendship with Lupe, her someday-maybe-more-than-friendship with Pablo, her devotion to her family members (living and dead) and even to her chicken Miss La, her toughness and courage, all make her the kind of character on whom readers will fasten their hearts, while the terrifying dangers she must face will ensure a white-knuckle grip on the ears of the book. Her world is strange, original, magical, with some ugliness that has been forced on it, and even more beauty that just wants to burst through. Its story shape has a touch of fall-and-redemption in it, and the suspense doesn't let up until it reaches world-shaking levels. I think most readers Isabella's age and up will love it.

This book was previously released in the U.K. under the title The Girl of Ink & Stars. Under its new title, it is due to be released in the U.S. Nov. 1, 2016. Why the title was changed, I do not know; especially since The Cartographer's Daughter is also the title of a fantasy novel by Karen L. Abrahamson. I like the original title better; but leave it to American publishers. This is the debut novel of a writer previously known for her poems. My review of it is based on a pre-publication Kindle proof made available through Netgalley dot com.

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