From the Bookshelves: The Mapwalker Trilogy
Delightfully dark, fast-paced fantasy thrillers!
I’ve read this J.F. Penn's nonfiction and most of her other fiction (Arkane series, Brooke & Daniel), but I had not read The Mapwalker Trilogy. As a lifelong lover of maps and books and magic and different cultures, the Mapwalker world pulled my attention. I’m glad I waited and read all three as a box set since the stories are fast paced, and I enjoyed moving through all three quickly instead of having to wait. I believe all together they’re just over 500 pages - delightful weekend reading!
I find the concept of man made borders fascinating. The land may stay the same, but with a handshake and a pen, the lives of the people who live on it can change dramatically when they’re closed, moved, opened, and so on. These books take this concept one step further in that blood magic can erase parts of the world from known existence by drawing them off the maps of Earth and pushing them into an area (the Borderlands) inaccessible and unknown to all but the Mapwalkers (people who can travel through maps or have special map-related abilities). This group, headquartered in Bath, England, is responsible for maintaining the border and passing down the maps to future generations. There are dark forces at play (those of the Shadow) trying to tip the balance, and the team must work to restore it and save the world.
I love the concept of teams of Mapwalkers who go on different adventures, and the grouping allows us to get to know multiple characters over the course of the books. The books are action based and plot driven, so we don’t get to know the characters on a deep level and must accept certain elements or decisions without as much explanation or exploration as I would have loved to see - especially as there were so many tempting elements to dive into (romance, eugenics, friendships and love, power struggles, history and how who tells it shapes our beliefs, death, parent/child relationships, self-sacrifice). Since the books are short and quick, we get a splash of each rather than a deep dive, which is fun in its own way. And each character is unique and I never struggled to know from whose perspective different parts of the story came (all close 3rd person). Each had their own talents and personal struggles, and I appreciate that not all characters get a traditional happy ending.
The fast pace also means we move through the world of the Mapwalkers on the Earthside and the Borderlands very quickly. I’m impressed with the author’s ability to imagine this alternate world, and I would have loved to learn even more. Of course, the fast pace means we get to see many areas of the world, which is great, and I enjoy that food for my imagination. Penn came up with many interesting elements - portals that connect different areas of each world, mutated creatures that began Earthside and changed in the Borderlands, religious beliefs, elements of good and evil, libraries and castles, underwater worlds, unique powers of magic, whole cultures … Definitely lots to enjoy in this box set for those who like fantasy worlds!
Overall I enjoyed the series as an original and interesting escapist read and recommend it for readers looking for a unique, action filled, fast-paced fantasy-thriller with an emphasis on action. And the book had an added effect: I wasn’t expecting to develop a minor obsession with Bath, England! I’ve been to the UK several times, but never to Bath, and after reading the books I found myself looking at pictures online and planning to take a trip! And I appreciate the author notes at the end of each book in which Penn shares her inspiration, some of her research, and gives us a glimpse into her thought processes.
Super fun reads!