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Staff Reads: The Last Mapmaker

Staff Reads: The Last Mapmaker

The Last Mapmaker by Christina Soontornvat
Reviewed by Charity Craig, Marketing Assistant

The Last Mapmaker, a 2023 Newbery Honor Book, is a middle-grade fantasy book full of high-seas adventure and unforgettable characters. It’s set in the Thai-inspired fictional land of Mangkon, where an era of prosperity has led the monarchy to map the distant borders of the kingdom, where legend says a herd of dragons live. With a reward on the line and an opportunity to start a new life as the high-class young lady she’s been pretending to be, twelve-year-old Sai, a mapmaker’s assistant, deceives her con-man father and her esteemed employer into letting her go.

Things don’t go as she planned, however. One crew member threatens to expose Sai’s true identity. A stowaway becomes Sai’s best friend and collaborator in ensuring the journey continues. A member of the crew stages a mutiny to take over the ship when the captain becomes ill. And through it all, Sai discovers that there are a lot of secrets surrounding this journey–some that may ultimately lead to their failure and possibly even their deaths.

In addition to the adventure and thrills of this story, I also loved author Christina Soontornvat’s exploration of identity, integrity, and trust among the characters. Because the protagonist, Sai, is keeping her own secrets, she has trouble knowing when others–from her own father to the young officer she befriends–are telling the truth or when they’re deceiving her. There’s also the caste system and colonialism of Mangkon, which give this story more depth than a reader might expect from a novel about searching for dragons.

This book would be a great next read for anyone who enjoyed Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon or Kelly Regan Barnhill’s The Girl who Drank the Moon. Tweens (or even teens and adults) who like fantasy, adventure, and dragons also will love The Last Mapmaker. Get it in print, or read as an eBook or audiobook.