Wednesday 18 November 2015

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Breath of the Dragon

The Mapmaker Chronicles: Breath of the Dragon by A.L.Tait (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99 ISBN 9780734415813

Reviewed by Hilary Smillie

The third and last book in The Mapmaker Chronicles brings to an exciting conclusion the adventures of Verdanian, Quinn Freeman, mapmaker on board the Libertas, one of three ships vying for the prize offered by the king of Verdania for the best map of the world. A.L. Tait has skillfully recapped the previous two books in such a way that children reading Breath of the Dragon will enjoy it as a stand- alone title.
The story opens with Quinn and his fellow voyagers, Zain the captain, Ash his friend who masquerades as a boy, Tomas, and the rest of the crew all weak and close to starvation. The ship reaches a desolate landfall where no tree or sign of life is apparent other than a mountain belching smoke. Despite their lack of confidence, the only way forward is to explore and hope some form of life and therefore provisions will be discovered. A boat is launched from the Libertas and thus new adventures begin.
A strange group of dusty, goblin-like men shovelling out dirt and rocks on the mountain side, stop their work as Quinn, Tomas and Zain appear. They look blank as Zain then Quinn try various languages to communicate with them, but it isn't until Tomas speaks in Prate - the pirate language - that comprehension appears on the mob's faces. Egunon, one of the sand goblins (as Quinn calls them) steps forward and says he is in charge. Tomas introduces Zain as Hayreddin, a compatriot of the notorious pirate, the Golden Serpent, from the Black Hawk where Quinn was once held captive. 
The mention of the Golden Serpent has a dramatic effect on Egunon. He quickly offers hospitality. But treachery threatens and the crew are fortunate to escape both the sand goblins and the might of the erupting volcano with its heat and stifling air the strange goblins call "dragon's breath". But escape they do, taking with them provisions and a sack of stones that Quinn thinks valuable and he is soon proved right. The contents of the rocks should give the Libertas extra credit towards earning the king's prize.
With food in their bellies, everyone is strengthened except for the old cleric who is still weak and ill. The cleric is the only one to know Quinn has two maps and the genuine one is hidden in his cabin. But will the confidence held in the true map prove to be misplaced?
There are more challenges ahead before the mapmaker and those on board the Libertas can return home: capture by marauding Deslonders, serious injuries and imprisonment for Zain and clashes with their rivals to name a few. Perhaps one of the more intriguing problems is Quinn struggling with loss of memory recall which is impacting on his capabilities.
I found the depth of the hatred and revenge Quinn feels towards Ira, at whose hands he suffered so much, a shock. Despite a welcome benefit from the fight which ensues, I am not a fan of these emotions and was pleased to find the author balanced this scenario later with the calm of Zain's mature, adult approach and wise influence on Quinn when a great injustice is done to the Libertas' crew. It is good for young readers to see that patience and restraint is preferable to violence.
The author brings her series to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of interest and unexpected events to surprise the reader right up to the last pages. The Mapmaker Chronicles showcases a vivid imagination and gift for storytelling which marries fantasy and reality together to great effect and is bound to be a favourite series on the bookshelf.

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