Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The Last Mapmaker

Soontornvat, Christina. The Last Mapmaker
April 12th 2022 by Candlewick Press
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this Thai-inspired alternate historical world, Sai is attempting to distance herself from her impoverished upbringing in the Fens by her father, Mud. She has managed to get an assistantship with Paiyoon, a mapmaker, and has managed to get the proper clothing and backstory to continue working for him. As she approaches 13, however, she won't have the money to attend a good school or acquire a lineal (a piece of jewelry showing family heritage) of her own, which will jeopardize her position. When Paiyoon is invited to be part of a expedition motivated by the Queen of the Kingdom of Mangkon. A challenge has been issued for people to travel to the Sunderlands, which some believe don't exist, and acquire property for the kingdom. Paiyoon, as the last traditional mapmaker, is asked to go on the ship Prosperity and draw official maps of the expedition, as well as help with navigation. The Captain is a war hero, Anchalee Sangra. Paiyoon's writing has become very shaky, and he hopes that if Sai comes with him, she can do the work secretly and he can pass it off as his own. Being away from home for a year works well for Sai, so she sets off on the voyage. It's a difficult one, and she's sea sick at first, and there are some boys on the ship who know some of her secrets. She does manage to befriend Rian Prasomsap, a friend of the captains, and this proves to be useful. The journey becomes even more complicated when the captain becomes ill and Rian wants Sai to replace him, but that is just the beginning of their troubles. 
Strengths: Sai is a fantastic and resourceful character who has used her talents and energy to better her lot in life, even though it is very difficult to break away from her father and succeed in a world where lineage is extremely important. The lineals are an interesting concept; I wonder how many links (generations) most people in the US would be able to wear? The details of her work with mapmaking, especially working from scraps of cloth on which fishermen had drawn maps, were very interesting, and her relationship with Paiyoon was rather touching. They supported each other, although Paiyoon had no clue about Sai's background. It was also interesting to see women in leadership roles in an alternate Age of Exploration (around the 15th century to early 17th century) setting. There's plenty of seafaring action, as well as some political intrigue, and that makes for a well rounded adventure book with some modern political sensibilities made possible by the alternative world setting. 
Weaknesses: This almost felt like the second book in a series at first; I felt like I was missing a lot of details about Sai and her work with Paiyoon. Jumping right into her world gets the story off to a good start, but I would have liked a little more information about her world. 
What I really think: This had some similarities to this author's A Wish in the Dark as far as characters and themes are concerned, but lacked the magical elements. It reminded me a lot of Flanagan's Brotherband Chronicles in the amount of sailing details and actions, but was a complete 180 when it came to how colonialism is dealt with. Most older titles about sailing the high seas, like Cadnum's Ship of Fire (2003- a big favorite back int he day) or Dowsell's Powder monkey : the Adventures of Sam Witchall (2005) are going to have problematic content when dealing with exploration and colonization, so this is a good substitute if seafaring tales are popular with your students. (Does anyone still have Dana's 1840 Two Years Before the Mast?)

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