Thursday, 13 November 2014

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Race to the End of the World by A.L.Tait (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 978 0 7344 1577 6
Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

The first book in a trilogy, Race to the End of the World is set in a fantasy world and yet reflects history, when sailing explorers sought to discover whether the rumour that the world is round was true and if other countries lay beyond their own horizons.

Quinn Freeman is chosen by Zain, slave to King Orel to be mapmaker on board the Libertas, one of three ships competing in a race to bring back the best map of the whole globe and make the kingdom of Verdania superior to that of neighbouring Gelyn. The king firmly believes that knowledge is power.

Quinn has already received mapmaking training, coerced into agreeing to leave his parents farm by the promise of a generous payment to learn these skills. He could not refuse, knowing that the money would make a huge difference to the prosperity of his family. Quinn, regarded as the runt of the litter compared to his muscular and tall older brothers, has a well-guarded secret: a photographic memory and the ability to learn languages quickly. However, Zain has found out, and knows the boy will prove invaluable on the expedition which he will lead.

Quinn has a friend, Aysha, who had left the area where they grew up because her mother, a healer, had been labelled a witch. Her mother died, and Aysha found work as a servant at the place where Quinn was to receive his mapmaking training. It came as a huge surprise when, five days after the Libertas set sail, Aysha, disguised as a boy, is discovered as a stowaway. But Aysha (Ash) turns out to be a vital member of the crew.

The author has produced well-rounded characters and detailed backgrounds to underpin the storyline. While it may unfold somewhat slowly in the early chapters, explaining in depth the conditions and operations on board a sailing ship, once the hair-raising adventures commence, the reader can quickly detect he is in for a good yarn. The fierce competition between the three ships increases the strength of the story.

The author's good imagination coupled with plenty of action propels this initial book of the trilogy to a satisfying end leaving a sense of longing for the second, Prisoner of the Black Hawk, to arrive. Readers will have to be patient until 2015.

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