I’ll admit my intentions were a little sneaky when I purchased the first book in this middle grade fantasy fiction series. Mr 11 needed a bookweek costume in a hurry and the main protagonist, Quinn, sure knows how to don a cloak! I knew my son would be drawn into the storyline; a boy-hero entrusted to map the world, an ancient sailing ship captained by a slave, fire-breathing dragons and sea monsters… What’s not to love?
I still read with my children at night and become personally invested in books that fire their imaginations, stretch their vocabulary and teach them storytelling techniques. If the author is Australian, then all the boxes are ticked. This is a series where I have truly been carried along on a high-seas adventure with my son. The calm, sedate image of a parent reading to a child in bed at night did not apply in this case. My son was often noisily cheering Quinn on from the sidelines, making quips about enemies that dared take on Zain’s bulk, unable to sit still as the action built. Each night the book was closed to cries of ‘No!’ followed by tough negotiations for ‘one more chapter’.
Much to our delight, the fourth book in the series, Beyond The Edge of The Map has recently been released. Quinn has returned to the family farm, painstakingly making copies of his winning map for the king. An attempted kidnapping lands him in the middle of the ocean once again; the ‘safest place’ for him to be.
Favourite characters return, and a new crew member is introduced (bearing a distinct resemblance to the author’s dog, #Procastipup). I love the name given to this puppy: Leif – named after the favourite Freeman family curse, Leif’s Boots.
This time, Quinn is teamed up with two of his brothers for the journey. Their complaints about the monotony of daily shipboard life are quickly forgotten as Quinn’s eavesdropping results in them hastily escaping their ship, The Rose of The North. The adventure which ensues doesn’t give the reader much chance to catch their breath until the book ends.
Whilst it is Quinn’s photographic memory that has put him back in danger, it is his quick intelligence that gets him out of difficult situations. He has ‘character agency‘ in spades. Each narrow escape leads to further danger, and thus the excitement builds. So well-written is this book that it was easy to engage in short, subtle, side discussions with my son about the author’s techniques in building tension, raising stakes and blending in backstory (the prior three novels were woven in seamlessly). And again, the vocabulary is fantastic: paltry, parlay, parried, prevaricated, pragmatism; cacophony, caterwauling, conniptions. I love that Allison doesn’t ‘dumb it down’ because the books are written for kids.
Quinn provides a strong role model for readers to look up to. He faces challenges with courage and hope, saying ‘as long as someone has hope for you, there’s a chance that things will turn out okay.’ Loyalty, family and friendship are paramount, and valuable lessons like ‘the clothes a man wears do not always reflect his true self’ are learnt along the way. Ash, the book’s heroine, is no ‘girly girl’. She enjoys life at sea and provides additional depth to the story that will appeal to female readers (we have our own Ash at home and I’m looking forward to revisiting the series with her). Ash struggles with the palace’s expectations that because she is female, this will be her one last adventure before settling down to marriage and children. However, in true Ash style, she takes this matter into her own hands.
We particularly enjoyed Morpeth’s appearance in the fourth book, taking on a subservient role having previously been an evil enemy. Comical situations result as Quinn and his brothers take advantage of the ‘three against one’ scenario, even though they are all a lot younger than him.
The book’s ending is nicely done. No annoying questions remain, but there is enough intrigue to allow for further sequels: A deal is made with Morpeth that will put truth and trust to the test. The ghost ship, Sofia Marie, begs investigation. Will Ash succeed in finally becoming liberated?
I really enjoyed reading the whole series with my son. Thank you Allison Tait for giving him a reason to beg for ‘one more chapter’ rather than ‘one more level’ on his screens.
The MapMaker Chronicles series is published by Hachette Children’s Books. I purchased the first three books and enjoyed reading the fourth book, Beyond The Edge of The Map, courtesy of the publisher. Click here for Booktopia’s purchase link.