Review posted September 8, 2022.
Candlewick Press, 2022. 355 pages.
Review written July 24, 2022, from my own copy, picked up at ALA Annual conference and signed by the author.
2022 Sonderbooks Stand-out:
#4 Children's Speculative Fiction
This book is wonderful! It took me on a voyage to enchanted lands, complete with danger, friendship, treachery, and self-examination.
The book begins with twelve-year-old Sai, who has been pretending to be from a good family lineage so she can serve her Assistant year with the old master mapmaker. She doesn't know how she'll hide it when she turns thirteen and should receive her lineal -- a chain of gold links with one link for every generation of distinguished ancestors.
But then the Queen announces a contest, now that the island is at peace, to map the distant regions of the globe. Sai's master is going, and he needs her to use her steady hands to get his observations on paper.
But after the voyage departs, Sai learns that they are looking for the Sunderlands -- a vast southern continent thought to be mythical. But Sai also learns that there are consequences to "discovery," that it often doesn't work out well for those who are "discovered." Yet if they succeed in mapping the Sunderlands, she can stop hiding her heritage.
Meanwhile, Sai helps a stowaway and makes friends on the voyage -- but needs to figure out who she can trust. Storms at sea and mythical creatures add to the adventure. Yes, there are some coincidences in the plot, but they were easy to forgive because I was enjoying the story so much.
A magical tale of discovery, both of the world and in Sai herself.
Here's a taste of Christina Soontornvat's beautiful prose:
Paiyoon was the last mapmaker of his kind still working in An Lung. He used old-fashioned mapmaking techniques, drawing coastlines as intricate as a lace collar. This meant that he worked slowly, but in the end, each map was exquisite enough to hang in a museum.
Some people in An Lung said, That man would draw the pebbles on the beach if he had a pen fine enough. Others said, The spirits must have blessed him with the gift of far sight. And still others said (in frightened whispers), Stay away from that old Paiyoon. Everyone knows he sold his soul to a demon in exchange for his mapmaking talent. I liked that one best.