You need to read this mystery book next: The Cartographers

Welcome to another short, sweet, and spoiler-free book review! This month, I’m covering Peng Shepherd’s The Cartographers.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

The book in one sentence: A young aspirational cartographer is plunged into uncovering secrets and connections in the wake of her highly esteemed cartographer father’s mysterious and sudden death.

Read if: You need a gripping mystery adventure without heavy world-building.

Book length: 400 pages

Initial Impressions

I found this book in the beginning stages of my quest for more mystery novels. After reading Lucy Foley’s The Apartment, I felt unfulfilled. I needed something with heightened tension and a more satisfying ending. Peng Shepherd understood the assignment.

Character Commentary

Shepherd makes great use of every character in this novel. Each one contributes to the plot and the protagonist’s character arc. This makes the book feel intricate, well-paced, and dimensional. Do you know those books whose stories are so focused on the protagonist’s perspective that side characters fade into the background? Yeah, this book isn’t one of them. I hate it when interesting side characters are left to the wayside after giving the protagonist information to move along her journey. In other words, I don’t like stories whose main character is too much of a main character. No divas here, please.

Our protagonist, Nell, is curious, decisive, and a little neurotic. Her strong desire for redemption is magnetic, and her relatable fear of repeating mistakes adds contrast. It’s the vacillation between these two things that make her feel human.

Plot Thoughts

The plot twists in this book were too good. I wish I could savor them all over again. Creating plot twists is a delicate balance. Sometimes there are too many, and the story gets confusing; sometimes there’s too little, and the story lacks panache. Shepherd hits the sweet spot here. If you love intricate plot-driven stories, this book is for you.

Where does this book fail? If you are the kind of reader that needs explanations for everything, you might feel shortchanged. It’s not a question of plot holes. It’s a question of leaving some things to the imagination.

This book explores themes of family, second chances, and redemption. It also lightly touches on topics like data, technology, privacy, and the ethics surrounding those.

Aside from the plot, I enjoyed this book’s world and setting. While the novel is not strictly sci-fi, I would say it is just shy of crossing that border. Shepherd contextualized the world of geography and cartography in a way that felt easy and natural. Readers don’t need any degree of background knowledge in either field to understand what is happening, which I appreciate. Denser sci-fi novels like Dune will focus on science and world-building too much that the information feels overwhelming and occlusive. In The Cartographers, you don’t waste your time or attention trying to understand what is going on before getting on with the story.

I really hope this book gets a film adaptation. I’d watch it even if I know how it ends.

Comment below if you’re thinking of picking up this book!

If you enjoyed this post, check out my other spoiler-free book reviews on Arsenic and Adobo and A Certain Hunger.


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