The Mapmaker’s War: A Legend by Ronlyn Domingue (Atria, 2013, 226pp.)
This short novel deals with the interactions between two unnamed kingdoms. One is patriarchal and greatly reminiscent of medieval Europe, while the other is peace-loving and unconventional, a veritable utopia. Aoife (pronounced ee-fah), the novel’s heroine, hails from the patriarchal society. She is a woman whose skills as a mapmaker have graced her family with political favors. During one mapmaking expedition, she is ordered to document the land close to the border between the two kingdoms. Upon her return to her homeland, she reports her findings: the friendly, peace-loving tribe of people, the wealth, the streets paved with gold, the abundant jewels. Aoife’s husband, who has recently been crowned king, is convinced by his greedy advisors to declare war on the utopia. When her pleas that the utopia be spared fall on deaf ears, she secretly travels to warn her new friends—but too late. As punishment for her actions, her husband’s supporters force her into exile. She takes up residence with a group of utopians that remains untouched by outside influence and is allowed to start a new life for herself, despite her unwitting betrayal. What follows next is a chronicle of her life in this peace-ridden society, her second marriage, the birth of a daughter with special skills, and her eventual coming to terms with her exile.
The premise of The Mapmaker’s War is not new: A person from a warlike society is confronted by a strange, peaceful people and questions the values he/she was brought up with. While the novel itself is, for the most part, an unconventional tale (a good thing), it also has the tendency to be slow and unengaging. The narrator, Aoife, is telling herself her own life story, so the narrator is referred to as “you.” (Not the most popular choice of narration in fiction, to be sure.) Even though the plot centers more on Aoife’s life story than the titular war itself, we learn very little about her. And to be honest? What we do know about her isn’t really all that interesting.
Looking at the mostly positive reviews on Amazon, I’m sorry to say that this book just didn’t sit very well with me at all. The plot inches forward at a snail’s pace, and by the midway point of the book, I resorted to skimming. It also doesn’t help that the author chose to grace her heroine with a name that consists almost entirely of vowels. Recommended for the reader who doesn’t mind slow-moving, unconventional literature.
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