Publisher: Ballantyne Books (Imprint of Random House)
The hook of Heather Terrell’s second novel, The Map Thief is quite absorbing as it revolves around the query, what if the Chinese created an accurate map of the world in the early 1400s-some seventy-odd years before the Europeans?
In order to widen this theme, Terrell offers up a multilayered tale that involves three interlaced stories, all dealing with this world map and all having an interesting bearing on the tale.
The novel is jump started when we are introduced to an American, Mara Coyne who was a former attorney and now a principal in a firm that specializes in recovering stolen works of art.
Basically, her firm’s “main function was to dispense swift, fair and private dispute resolution for clients engaged in some of the thorniest battles over plundered art and artifacts.”
A rich and influential art and antique collector, Richard Tobias, who funds certain archaeological digs and historical research, engages Mara to find a map stolen from the site of a dig Tobias is funding. However, this is not just an ordinary map. It appears that the chief archaeologist on a dig in China unearthed a map memorializing the voyage of a fifteenth-century Ming dynasty Admiral Zheng He. This map was supposedly drawn up in the 1420s and pictures the world then known to the Chinese that included Asia, parts of the Arabic world, Africa and even America. If this map proves to be precise, then this would be invaluable and one of the earliest even partial world maps in history.
Our second narrative focuses on a gifted Chinese cartographer and navigator Ma Zhi.In the early 1400s Zhi partakes, along with the crew of an enormous fleet of technologically advanced ships under the leadership of the renowned Ming dynasty’s Admiral Zheng, in their mission to chart the globe. It seems that it was the work of Ma Zhi that led to the first true map of the world and the eventual discovery of the world. Unfortunately, however, when the crew returned to their homeland, all documentation of their discoveries were destroyed as a result of an imperial edict. But what about Ma Zhi’s map, was it also destroyed and if it wasn’t, where did it end up?
The third character of the saga is a Portuguese navigator, Antonio Coehlo who was one of the crew of the illustrious explorer Vasco da Gama’s expedition to discover a sea route to India. On board the voyage is a map that shows the way and is depicted as Portugal’s most secret treasure. Where did this map come from?
While The Map Thief may be an imperfect novel it is far from dull or rigid and does give us a very unique “what if” scenario satisfying readers’ curiosity. In addition, due to Terrell’s wide-ranging research, readers will acquire some fascinating history about the Chinese and Portuguese during the age of discovery. Where it is weak, however, is that the characters, with the exception of Ma Zhi, are not fully developed and this could have probably been resolved if about fifty pages were added to the novel’s two hundred and thirty four pages. Another is that the use of flashbacks and back-stories is always challenging to every writer, particularly in endeavouring to get in and out of scenes gracefully and effectively. Unfortunately, many of this novel’s flashbacks fell into the trap of jaggedness. Nonetheless, the novel is an entertaining read and will keep you turning the pages.
The above review was contributed by: The Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com, Norm Goldman, B.A. LL.L, Retired Title Attorney: Norm is also a travel writer and together with his artist wife, Lily, the couple meld Norm's words with Lily's art. To check out their travel site click on Sketchandtravel.comClick here to view Norm’s Reviews & Interviews.
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