Ever since I read Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, I have been looking for it in other conspiratorial novels about learning and books. The closes I have come is Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, which I still recommend and now want to read again (which would be, probably, the fourth of fifth time).
The Cartographers doesn’t really come close, but it’s still pretty good. The villain’s motivation never really seems that evil (or, if it is, then the protagonists couldn’t have known about the really evil part, which is an underdeveloped criticism of a certain breed of technofetishism/technoutopianism) and their identity is rather crudely telegraphed about one hundred pages out.
But, listen, it’s still good. Not being as good as Eco or as good as one of my favorite novels published in the last twenty years can’t be the criteria here. I enjoyed and I’m glad I read it. I learned something about map making and the premise, which is held secret for long enough in the book that I don’t want to give it away here, is pretty clear. The primary protagonist is a pleasantly flawed, obsessive, and intelligent woman, even if the rest of the cast can feel a little thin.