When I was a child I once got lost at the market because I was busy staring at a female butcher hard at work with a heavy meat cleaver; it seemed something extraordinary to my young eyes! Such is the world of Aoife, the mapmaker of the fantasy novel The Mapmaker’s War by Ronlyn Dominigue. In the novel, women can choose a role in life, but from a narrow selection: “wife, mother, domestic.” Aoife breaks from convention, and from her mother’s desire to mould a good wife, to follow her own desires and inclinations “to be good at something other than what was expected of you.”
Aoife is not only attracted to useful work, but she is also drawn by the need to knit people together and to explore different customs and habits: “knowledge of the people was meant to be mapped.” She seems to be seeking the “truth” of difference and of how acceptance of the gifts and resources you have may bring peace and happiness in a way that seeking after treasures cannot. The ultimate counteraction to her efforts is the war that sits at the novel’s center and creates the mechanism by which Aoife’s eventual exile occurs.
Aoife in fact discovers herself as a “human being who wanted peace regardless of the price,” but this blind pursuit has consequences—among them, the loss of her children from her first marriage. Once she accepts the world for what it is, she is able to facilitate healing in her second marriage and give birth to an unusually gifted child, Wei. The novel’s later section has Aoife living with the Utopian Guardians, but even their knowledge is barren and unproductive unless shared, and Wei becomes the instrument by which this growth can be achieved.
Reading this novel, I felt like I was examining a Jungian analysis dream diary, or perhaps a grown up feminist twist on The Hobbit. It was a pleasure to read a novel of broad scope that actually contained its exploration within a few hundred pages and didn’t balloon into the inevitable four-part saga. Definitely a tale to enjoy on a wintry evening by the fire.