By David Hair
I bought Map’s Edge when it came out in 2020. At first it was the cover that drew me to this book, then that it was a NZ author. But the blurb on the back sounded interesting, and worth a try. Fast forward two years and I rediscovered it on my shelves having completely forgotten about it. At the time, books 2 and 3 in the trilogy had disappeared from the NZ shops and looked to be low in stock from Booktopia too, so I quickly ordered the rest of the trilogy before the books disappeared, deciding to take the risk and hope that I liked book 1. Well, it turns out I didn’t need to rush to buy those copies as they have been appearing recently on the shelves again – it must have been one of the regular voids caused by supply chain issues we have been seeing since Covid came to stay. But luckily, having now read book 1, I don’t regret that urge to quickly buy the rest of the trilogy.
The book starts in the small village of Teshveld, on the edge of the Bolgravian Empire. The Empire is basically a widely spread conquered land by thugs, with great reserves of magic, and pretty shady magic at that. The village is populated by people who are mostly outcasts and those who have had to leave their conquered lands, and are now here having run out of places to go. In the middle of the night, there is a knock at the door and an officer and soldiers of the Empire are at Raythe’s door. They have been directed there as he is a healer for the village and their cartographer is in dire need of healing. Raythe knows that his patient is beyond saving, and also that his life is in danger because of it. For this bunch have just returned from the map’s edge, where they have been charting out new lands to claim, and just what has been hidden in the cartographer’s journal. Turns out, a pretty big secret. An important find that he managed to hold back from the Bolgravians, hiding it in his native tongue that they cannot read. Raythe can read it however, and knows that should he translate the secret for the Belgravians, three lives will be lost, including his own and his daughter’s.
And so begins a daring plan to kill the Belgravians, enlist the support of the rest of the outcasts in the village, or at least those deemed “trustworthy”, escape onto the Ghost Road, and head over land to this unmapped land to find the “treasure”. His hope is to make enough money to be able to return to his land and continue the fight, or at least claim back his wife. Which honestly feels somewhat delusional. But despite that he manages to get the support of the village and they all disappear. Unfortunately, with an agent of the Empire on their tail.
The beginning of the book has its flaws and there are some moments lacking in credibility that could be handled better, but once the large party is on the road, the book starts to get quite good. And soon we see that Raythe is not the sole main character in this book, as the blurb implies, but one of a group including his daughter Zarelda (whose role grows as the book continues) and the healer Kemara. It is Kemara that was the most interesting character for me, and it was a passage from her point of view that really hooked me from 100 pages in, both heightening my interest and giving me greater respect for the author:
Men didn’t understand that to be a woman – especially a solitary one – was to be always on watch, to be always guarding yourself. It was oppressive, all that fear, but she tried not to succumb to it, taking pleasure in company and music and dance, the things she loved, refusing to live with one eye always glancing over her shoulder, watching the shadows.
It’s rare for men to get it – get just what is involved with being a woman. Having to be aware of your surroundings at all times, and making choices based on safety. Where it is so suffused into your life that it becomes second nature. That this was not only acknowledged here, but also that Kemara’s gut feel of a character and where it was leading was correct, felt to me like the author understands and respects the challenges that women face, and how we hone our gut feeling so that it is rarely wrong. But that knowing there is danger will not always save us.
The journey that lasted the length of the book, the aspects of the chase that we see, the battles, the magic – all of these kept me intrigued and I read this book in just 2 days. It seemed to get better and better as it went along, though there were still flaws sprinkled throughout and it would have been nice for the author to be able to find some way to introduce a key part of the plot without having people trust someone that they normally wouldn’t trust so easily. But overall, it was a great direction and I have a page in my reading journal with some theories. Including about the two different magic “types”. I’m looking forward to continuing on in this series to see if I am right.
Yes, there were a few aspects that were borrowed from older works (trollochs – though mentioned only, not used; bearskin – bear man; isteriol – a mineral augmenting magic) but these were not significant enough to dull my enjoyment of the book.
Map’s Edge was a bonus book for me this month, that I hadn’t planned on reading. It ended up being a great bonus, possibly even my favourite read of the month (if I don’t count my reread of Warhost of Vastmark, which by far takes the lead). Book two may just end up being a bonus read for May. Or a book that displaces one of my other planned reads.