Sunday, December 20, 2020

Race to the End of the World

Race to the End of the World
by A.L. Tait
Recommended Ages: 11+

Like many other books for young readers, this one features a talented youngster whose adventures begin when he is sent to a special school. Unlike many such books, it then skips over his three-month term at the mapmaking school and resumes just as Quinn and nine other boys find out which of them will participate in a race to map the world. Only three ships are competing, so only the best will make the cut. Quinn isn't worried about winning. In fact, he doesn't want to go on the race; he's only come this far because his family needs the money. Also, he has to be careful who finds out about his incredible memory; there are some superstitious people who might confuse that kind of gift with devilry.

In spite of not wanting to win, Quinn does his best. So, of course, he scores a spot on one of the three ships, accompanying an explorer named Zain who is competing in the hope of being freed from slavery. Competing against them are the greatest explorer alive and his mapmaker, the bully who made Quinn's schooling an experience best skipped over; and, on the third ship, a foppish nobleman assisted by Quinn's best friend. Well, second best – his best friend just stows away on the Libertas, then has to pretend to be a boy (which, by the way, she's not) in order to stay on board.

So their voyage is soon underway: a one-year mission to sail around the globe – not everyone believes it's a globe, yet – and bring back the most detailed map and, as a bonus, a little treasure for the king. Winning would mean a fortune for Quinn's whole family, back home on the farm. But the bigger issue may be survival, with an aggressive enemy nation also racing to make the first world map, and hostile natives tending to sacrifice strangers first and ask questions later, and a monster of the deep making occasional, terrifying appearances. Plus, Zain and his crew face betrayal by their own countrymen, storms at sea, a frigid wintery coast, hunger, and other challenges.

Time after time, the boy who was reluctant to go on the trip in the first place proves to be the right kid at the right time, with unexpected resources of courage, intelligence and resilience. Quinn grows the spirit of a true explorer before your eyes, a transformation that helps make this quick, eventful story a delight to read.

This is the first of four "Mapmaker Chronicles," followed by Prionser of the Black Hawk, Breath of the Dragon and Beyond the Edge of the Map. A.L. Tait, also known as Allison Tait, is an Australian author who has also written two "Ateban Cipher" books – The Book of Secrets and The Book of Answers – as well as a mystery titled The Fire Star and a non-fiction book, So You Want to Be a Writer.

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