Disclaimer: Atria Books kindly offered me a complementary review copy, in exchange for a fair, substantive review of this story. My own perception of my reading was not influenced in any way, and I am thankful, as always, for Atria Book’s amazing PR work, and the wonderful books that they publish!
“We need myths that will help us to identify with all our fellow-beings, not simply with those who belong to our ethnic, national or ideological tribe. We need myths that help us to realize the importance of compassion, which is not always regarded as sufficiently productive or efficient in our pragmatic, rational world. We need myths that help us to create a spiritual attitude, to see beyond our immediate requirements, and enable us to experience a transcendent value that challenges our solipsistic selfishness. We need myths that help us to venerate the earth as sacred once again, instead of merely using it as a ‘resource.’ This is crucial, because unless there is some kind of spiritual revolution that is able to keep abreast of our technological genius, we will not save our planet.” –Karen Armstrong,A Short History of Myths–
Now, this is the third title that I have read from Atria Books, and I am continually impressed with the quality of the prose being represented in not just Kate Morton’s titles, but also with Ronlyn Domingue’s books. The Mapmaker’s War is very much an atypical adult-fiction novel that is written with the same subtle, artful prose that I found myself appreciating more and more. From the very beginning of the story, your whole mind (and really, your entire psyche) seems to assimilate the dynamic, fully-realized perspective of this allegory’s main character, whose name almost becomes arbitrary, as the importance of the character is her existential crisis of trying to exist fully as one’s self within a social reality filled with constraints and antiquated, avaricious political structures.
In this story, the kingdom that she is born into is really patriarchal and conservative in nature, representing the commonplace kingdom within fairytales. But, Ronlyn Domingue’s beautiful allegorical tale is a fairy tale of subversion, rather than one of finding tighter allegiance with old tried and true political structure of the world. There is reason I used the Karen Amrstrong (a quote, from her brief novel- chronicling the history of myths- A Short History of Myths. It is a fabulous, succinct, and clearly written history of the purpose of mythology in society.
While I was finishing The Mapmaker’s War last night and wiping away any tears (you will cry at random intervals in this story, be warned that this prose packs an emotional punch), I read over a few pages from Karen Armstrong’s book to better understand the structure of The Mapmaker War. Karen Armstrong mentions that myths are always altered, based upon the predominant social struggles of a given time in human history. As such, I think it is safe to assume that The Mapmaker’s War could be viewed as a feminist’s retelling of the ancient hero tale. In other ways, it is a novel that presciently looks at the way that more egalitarian views of human values are finally beginning to rise to the surface of our collective minds, even though our society is still embattled in a psychological warfare between our older social views versus these new social views. We are at an important paradigm shift, in many ways, where the enlightenment values of Voltaire and other enlightenment thinkers, are finally being embraced and acculturated into our very psychological minds.
Astonishingly, a very lucidly written story of one woman’s journey of discovery and self-identity can also extend to one telling of a larger story about our current ideological crisis. Myths have that fluidity of meaning-inherent really in their construction- to reflect a vital struggle or occurrence within our lives. The hero’s struggle becomes our own, if the myth is written adeptly, and we may even find ourselves becoming that character in a sense. And, that is why Ronlyn Domingue fantastically leaves the question of the character’s name up to us, allowing readers more room of interpretation. So, anyone reading my review can dismiss my own subjective feelings on the meaning and purpose of the story, because The Mapmaker’s War entrusts the readers to once again grasp the meaning of the story themselves.
When writers allow readers this psychological space to think for themselves and allow the prose to subtly weave a tale that paints imagery, rather than merely defines things for the reader, the book itself becomes more absorbed into our minds. As I mentioned in my last review of Kate Morton’s Distant Hours, this type of writing that stresses “show, don’t tell” breaks down the barrier of skepticism of our minds, and allows our psyches to fully be consumed into the alternate psychological reality that this tale constructs.
You will cry, laugh, and wistfully dream of the story’s main character finally finding solace of some kind during the heart-wrenching moments of strife and conflict that the character encounters throughout this tale. At some moments, you will put the book down, and find your mind wandering off into a labyrinth of sorts, wondering how this tale connects with your own life. For those few hours of the day, you will become Asoife- the intrepid, and highly compassionate female mapmaker- of this tale. You will dwell over the meaning of maps, and how they reflect our burgeoning need to explore the world around us with open minds, in order to find our place in this world. Even though, this is a tale about a woman, it should also be a tale that draws the attention of male readers. It is another book that breaks down gender barriers, because it is a universal tale with a very human character that suffers the same vicissitude of different human events, mainly unseen tragic occurrences, which emotionally affect everyone one of us.
If you are looking something to read that completely consumes your mind and makes you feel deep empathy for well-drawn characters, this is a book that you will definitely want to read. More importantly, it is really skillful art at its best, as it paints the mystery of our lives with the right shade of paradox that only the best, most meaningful books or works of art can convey successfully. I cannot wait for another sequel to this beautiful first book, written by a very talented writer that is very much in touch with the spiritual atmosphere of our lives.