The mapmaker’s skill and vital importance in the ancient world is central to this thrilling, beautifully written adventure set in a fantastic realm of long ago, when lepers were shunned, travel was by horseback, deadly sea serpents threatened sailors and weapons were swords, bow and arrow - and deadly poison.
The novel begins with a scene of carnage, as the Royal Navigator and two boy princes of the island kingdom of St. John del Mar are abducted and killed and their guards poisoned in a plot blamed on the kingdom of Mondrago, a crime which results in terrible retribution for Mondrago.
Flash ahead 18 years: 19-year-old Elias, son of the Royal Navigator who was killed, has followed in his father's footsteps to become a geographer and mapmaker, a trade that requires artistic skill and an explorer’s courage and sense of adventure. Elias is preparing to leave on his latest exploration when two intriguing, unsigned maps surface. There are riddles hidden within them, and Elias believes the maps to be have been drawn by his father – yet they contain more recent details indicating his father might not have perished all those years ago.
Elias, together with 19-year-old King Ulises and Ulises' cousin Mercedes are determined to pursue the truth. Powerful forces are arrayed against them, and the mystery at the center of this intricately plotted tale is exposed in the most thrilling and dramatic way possible.
Lucier paints a marvelously complex and vivid portrait of this long-ago island kingdom, its enchanted forest, its isle of lepers, its politics, its food, its traditions. (The barber-surgeon keeps in a glass cage a Bushido fire leech, "a fat red worm the size of a man's foot," to clean wounds.) There are other wonderful details, whether it be the descriptions of the precision and skill used in mixing the paints and drawing the maps - or the use of setting alight an indigo bush to create a blue signal fire to send a message to the king. This enthralling mix of intrigue, mystery and romance will especially appeal to fans of Kristin Cashore's "Graceling" series.
One Day a Dot: The Story of You, the Universe and Everything by Ian Lendler; illustrated by Shelli Paroline & Braden Lamb; First Second Books ($17.99)
A dot is light, a dot is a planet, a dot is a life form in this ingenious, minimalist creation story describing evolution and the story of the universe. It begins: “One day a dot appeared. And it was so excited to be there that it burst.” Earth also is a dot, “the third one from the sun…a very special shade of blue.” The whimsical and humorous text – referring to dinosaurs as “land fish” and mammal as “fur things” - and the droll, brightly colored cartoon drawings are a marvel of graphic storytelling. “To survive this new game, new shapes were required. And after a while, everything was swimming and biting and doing whatever it needed to stay alive.” Here is the description of humans appearing on the scene, (“It didn’t have claws. It didn’t even have a lot of warm fur. It had something new: A big brain..... And just like the black dot and the green dot and the land-fish and the fur-things before them, these creatures made more of themselves. They had families. They had you,” the illustration depicting a biracial couple holding their baby in the air.