The Last Mapmaker
Twelve year old Sai, daughter of a con man and the narrator of this fantasy, comes from a marshy Fenland area where its inhabitants are looked down on. Nonetheless, thanks to her quick thinking she has become assistant to Paiyoon, the Mangkon Royal Navy’s Master Mapmaker, until her 13th birthday, at which point, when she does not receive a lineal, (a golden bracelet with links representing the recipient’s noble ancestors), her lowly status will become evident to everyone, Paiyoon included. She loves her job but secretly wants to save sufficient money to escape her home kingdom before that fateful date.
As her birthday draws near, the Queen issues a new directive. Now the kingdom has achieved peace for the first time in twenty years, it’s time to rededicate itself to exploration. This presents a wonderful opportunity for Sai when Paiyoon, invites the girl to assist him on an expedition aboard the ship Prosperity to chart and discover the Sunderlands for the Queen. Due to advanced age, his handwriting has become shaky and Sai can copy his writing without anyone knowing their secret. An enormous money prize awaits any crew who can locate the Sunderlands where, legend has it, Mangkon’s long-departed dragons now dwell.
Once aboard ship, Sai quickly discovers that many others have secrets of their own, including Miss Rian and her friend, the war hero Captain Sangra, even Paiyoon. She’s also worried that there’s a boy aboard who might know her identity. In fact it’s difficult to know who she can really trust.
Utterly compelling adventuring on the high seas: full of surprise twists and a fair few betrayals, with a diverse cast of complex characters, Soontornvat has constructed a tight plot full of wonderful descriptions – you can almost smell the brine – with undertones of colonialism and environmental issues,
Strongly recommended for older readers especially those who love unusual fantasies and a protagonist determined to chart her own course through life.