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The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

The Cartographers

by Peng Shepherd

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Quick take

When her father turns up dead in the NY Public Library, a disgraced mapmaker has to find her true north ASAP.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Quirky


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Murder


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Nyc



What is the purpose of a map?

Nell Young’s whole life and greatest passion is cartography. Her father, Dr. Daniel Young, is a legend in the field, and Nell’s personal hero. But she hasn’t seen or spoken to him ever since he cruelly fired her and destroyed her reputation after an argument over an old, cheap gas station highway map.

But when Dr. Young is found dead in his office at the New York Public Library, with the very same seemingly worthless map hidden in his desk, Nell can’t resist investigating. To her surprise, she soon discovers that the map is incredibly valuable, and also exceedingly rare. In fact, she may now have the only copy left in existence…because a mysterious collector has been hunting down and destroying every last one—along with anyone who gets in the way.

But why?

To answer that question, Nell embarks on a dangerous journey to reveal a dark family secret, and discover the true power that lies in maps…

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of The Cartographers.
The Cartographers


In the dim light of her desk’s single bulb lamp, the map nearly glowed.

Fra Mauro, it was called. It had been created in 1450 a.d. by a Camaldolese monk of the same name, who had designed it in his small cartography studio in the Monastery of St. Michael, in that glittering, floating city of Venice. Fra Mauro had researched his map by interviewing merchants traveling through the area from afar, which allowed him to depict the known world of the time with far greater accuracy than those cartographers who had come before him. Even to this day, the Fra Mauro map was considered one of the finest pieces of medieval cartography in existence.

Gently, Nell traced her gaze over the painted gold circular frame, looking for blemishes, inconsistencies in color, errant lines. The Fra Mauro map was also unique in that it was drawn opposite to most other world maps—it oriented the south at the top of its design, rather than the north.

Simply put, it was nothing short of a masterpiece.

If she’d been at a workstation in the conservation lab of the New York Public Library, with the map carefully installed onto a drafting table and her personal assortment of custom restoration tools laid out beside her, she would have chosen her graphic knife edge to gently cut away a frayed edge of the vellum or faintly scrape back a layer of too-boldly restored ink. She would have delicately touched the leg of the repainted T in the ANTARTICVS of the map’s lower right legend, to nick the most minuscule width away, so that it matched the original letter beneath it more perfectly.

Instead, she simply pressed print, and went to go retrieve another copy of the map from the clunky machine.

The Fra Mauro map—the real Fra Mauro map—was on permanent exhibit in the city of its creation, in Venice’s Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana. The diagrams before her were no more than a stack of cheap facsimiles.

What she was doing was not what she had trained her entire life to do: conservation and research on priceless, ancient pieces of art in a hermetically sealed museum laboratory. She was adding flourish—nonsense weathering marks and fading—to budget scans of those masterpieces at a cramped, sagging desk in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and then printing them out by the batch to be sold to casual enthusiasts to add a bit of academic flair to their decor.

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Why I love it

When I read, I typically read slowly. If a book were a meal, I’d be the annoying person at the table still nibbling on her tiramisu twenty minutes after everyone else had finished. So when I say I “devoured” a book, you need to understand how exceedingly rare for me that is.

I DEVOURED The Cartographers.

Maybe it’s because I spend too much time in antique stores, but the thought of finding an old map that conceals a dangerous secret is intoxicating to me. Our heroine, Nell, clearly feels the same way. After the suspicious death of her father, an esteemed cartographer, she discovers a cheap gas station map among his belongings. But what at first appears to be worthless, turns out to be more valuable than even the rarest map in the New York Public Library’s collection. So valuable, that just having it in her possession puts her life at risk.

The real thrill of this story is when you find out why the map is so valuable. The why made me read even more voraciously than I had before. The why was a fresh plate of French fries (objectively impossible to consume slowly).

I hope you read this book. I hope you devour this book. Then I hope you tell all of your friends to read it, too.

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Member ratings (25,550)

  • Michelle B.

    Alexandria, VA

    I really enjoyed this book!! This book kept me guessing. Wally really made me mad. He really needed help. I’m now looking at old maps differently now🤣. I give this book ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ &?a chefs kiss.

  • Alexandra O.

    Honolulu, HI

    What a magical ride this book is! Based in the perfect amount of reality, you feel as if this type of magic could be real. Suspenseful and well written, this is my favorite book this year! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Andie T.

    New Lenox, IL

    A remarkable story! It’s been a long time since I’ve been sad about a book ending because I wasn’t ready to leave that world and its characters. Such an enjoyable adventure, & the author’s note!! 5⭐️

  • Kelly N.

    Matthews, NC

    Somewhere between “liked” & “loved.” I loved it up until the end. There’s some definite magical realism happening & I’m ok with that, but the ending was somewhat improbable & incredulous. Love NYPL!

  • Lauren I.

    Essex Junction, VT

    SO many things I loved! Shepherd’s writing is magic, captivating from the start. Leading you to uncover the mystery. Historical, fantasy, mystery NYC, strong protagonists. What more do you need. ❤️❤️

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