Friday, June 12, 2015
Review: The Mapmaker's Children
hardcover, 320 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours
Sarah McCoy has written an enthralling novel that combines elements of historical fiction with women's fiction and contemporary fiction. That she pulls this off is a tribute to her storytelling gift. The Mapmaker's Children brings together heroines from distinctly differing historical periods, and weaves a tale that ultimately comes together in a most satisfying way.
Eden Anderson is a wife who has settled into a historic home in New Charlestown, West Virginia. Her husband seems nearly perfect: handsome, affectionate, successful. But after years of struggling to conceive a child, accumulating medical bills and disappointment, the couple is drifting apart. In fact, Eden is considering her options, and divorce might be one of them. How her story intersects with that of the daughter of American radical abolitionist-prophet John Brown is not immediately clear, but by the end of the novel, McCoy brings together the stories of these two very different women.
One of the appeals of the historical novel is that the reader is drawn imaginatively into a past that is only partially known. John Brown is most famous for his failed insurrection and attack at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. Even though the attack itself failed, and Brown was captured and hanged for his crime, it is considered to have been one of the important instigating events of the Civil War. Brown's sons are often mentioned: Oliver and Watson were killed at Harper's Ferry. But I have never heard mention of John Brown's daughters, and McCoy takes an imaginative leap in bringing Brown's widow, and his daughters, Annie and Sarah, to life in The Mapmaker's Daughter. Sarah is a fascinating figure: like her father, she was an abolitionist. She was befriended by Bronson Alcott and his daughter, Louisa May Alcott. Sarah was also a talented artist; this talent plays a large role in the novel, as McCoy imagines Sarah using her artistic skills in the abolition cause.
Sarah's story takes the reader from North Elba, New York, to New Charlestown, to Boston. McCoy succeeds in creating a believable character, fully fleshed out, with not only a desire to help the abolitionist cause, but also to move beyond the restricted life of the typical woman of her period. Sarah meets and falls in love with a young man who seems perfect for her in every way, but the narrative does not follow the expected plot lines of a romance.
In the parallel story of Eden, McCoy has her character struggling with how to redefine her life along new plot lines. At the same time, Eden is finding her way as a new member of her small community, while she tries to solve the mystery of the hidden trap door in her historic home, and the mysterious doll head she finds in a hidden cellar.
While initially I couldn't work out how these seemingly divergent story lines related, the novel drew me in with its vividly realized characters. The time preceding and during the Civil War is one that has always interested me, and I already have an interest in the brave abolitionists who worked on the Under Ground Rail Road helping slaves flee captivity. Much of the novel is told in the form of letters and other documents, which helps give a feeling of immediacy. The character of Eden, who I initially found somewhat annoying, became endearingly familiar by the novel's end. And in the contemporary story, the fictional characters of the town of New Charlestown were so appealing that I would be tempted to move there, and maybe try to get a job at Ms. Silverdash's bookstore. When the ends are all tied together at the book's close, the result is purely satisfying. Recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction, women's fiction, and characters who are portrayed with compassion and empathy.