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Cartomancy by Michael A. Stackpole

Cartomancy by Michael A. Stackpole
Book Name: Cartomancy
Author: Michael A. Stackpole
Publisher(s): Spectra (US) Bantam Books (UK)
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Fantasy
Release Date: February 28, 2006

The second book in a trilogy is a difficult beast to contend with. It needs to answer enough questions and fulfil enough expectations from the first novel to keep the reader satisfied, but without tipping the scales of interest to make the third novel unnecessary. This is by no means an easy feat and must feel quite daunting to the author. In Cartomancy, Stackpole accomplishes this in the best way possible by upping the stakes on both a narrative scale and on a personal scale for each individual character. What we end with feels more like part one of two rather than a bridge novel for books one and three, making the second novel in the Age of Discovery trilogy a great success.

Never Split The Party

We enter Cartomancy in the company of a rather unlikely character. Now named Ranai, this young woman was thoroughly humbled by Moraven Tolo in the first chapter of The Secret Atlas and is now wandering a forest helping to train younger swordsman as a student of Serrian Istor on the Virine coast. The forest seems to bring her peace and she is thankful for Moraven’s merciful hand, but during this training exercise she is come upon by fierce monsters and before long Ranai must flee her new home, students in tow. What are these demon, fish creatures who jump like frogs and bite with shark’s teeth? I can’t spoil it, but it’s safe to say they are nothing good.

From Ranai we move back and forth from the original cast of the first novel. Keles has been captured by Desei agents and is forced into servitude to Prince Pyrust while Ciras and Borosan, still In Ixyll, are tasked with locating the sleeping Empress. Jorim trains to use magic-the final step as he ascends to godhood-and his Uncle Qiro is all but a god through the power he had come to wield. Everywhere you turn it seems someone is trying to save a nation, conquer a nation, break free, or control someone else. Unfortunately for them, it’s all small potatoes in the end.

Cartomancy is great for raising the stakes and building the proper amount of suspense for the final book. It goes from a sort of quest story in The Secret Atlas to something more philosophical and character driven. In the first book you are introduced to these characters and watch how they interact with people, how they view the world, and where they stand on topics like country and family. The end of the first book sees them all start getting thrown into situations that force them to transform do to their circumstances and by the end of Cartomancy you are reading about a much different Moraven, Keles, Jorim, and others. It’s challenges galore for our heroes this time around and that is far from a bad thing.

Growth and Maturity

Everyone you got to know in the first book remains who they are in Cartomancy (give or take certain spoilers), but their experiences, often quite painful, change them. Ciras, for example, continues to take issue with Borosan’s gyanrigot machines, but as he travels with Borosan looking for the Empress he begins to respect automatons more for the duties they can accomplish. Keles and Jorim go through a fair amount of emotional and physical suffering throughout the book, ultimately attaining something that neither of them would have ever dreamed possible; whether they like it or not.

The most interesting individual to follow, however, is Moraven Tolo. Moraven is both not himself and more himself than he was in the first book. It appears that the master swordsman we had come to know was keeping the body warm for when the true Moraven could regain control. Once he does, we are introduced to a Tolo that is harder and less empathetic, though his previous life has rubbed off on him a bit. It was interesting to walk with this character that you liked, see him change, and then come around on him in the end when you were not at first sure what to make of his new demeanour. Plus, this Moraven likes to rock dual wielded katanas. How badass is that?

Here There Be Monsters

There isn’t much to say about the world this time around as it remains as gorgeous as it was in the first book with added locales to titillate the imagination. From the abhorrent halls of the vanyesh to the paradise continent of Anturasixan, everything remains as vividly detailed as it was in the first book, including the new types of beasts created by Qiro. The Durranni are especially deadly; blue-skinned warriors who are unable to reach jaedunto-supernatural mastery of swordsmanship-but are infused with magic to equal the strength of such Mystics. All of Nelesquin’s army is terrifying to imagine and Stackpole makes sure you have a very clear vision of each of them.

What is different about the world is how the tone changes from what you originally see in the first book. In The Secret Atlas there is a wonder and life to everything, as though you are discovering it for the first time, which you are. It helps you to understand Keles and Jorim more intimately. They are cartographers and explorers-even Prince Cyron believes exploration is the key to the world’s future – would it not be beneficial for the reader to understand that mindset in a deeper way? You get to view this world as someone like Keles or Jorim would and it helps to pull you into it. In Cartomancy, wonder is replaced with survival.

War and invasion are the central conflict of Cartomancy and it shapes how you view the land compared to when you read The Secret Atlas. There is still wonder to certain places and descriptions, but everything is talked about in a tactical sense rather than poetically or painterly. It is no longer about how beautiful this or that place is, it’s about how defensible is it, what amount can be given up to gain an advantage in battle, what will it look like after the invaders are done with it. I hesitate to say it makes the world feel grittier, but it does make it feel darker in that it sets a mature atmosphere. In the first novel it has an almost fairy tale quality where magic does crazy things and Keles is searching for a sleeping Empress who will come to save the world in its time of need and Jorim is wackily thought of as a god! The Secret Atlas feels slightly whimsical where Cartomancy grows up due to the events taking place. It’s not jarring at all and feels appropriate and natural because of what is happening in the story.

For Better Or Worse

I enjoyed Cartomancy as a continuation of The Secret Atlas, but it’s definitely a tonal shift that some people may not like. Things get serious quite quickly and it can feel devoid of smiles for most of the story. While that makes perfect sense in a book focusing on war and invasion, I wouldn’t be surprised if it took people a bit of time to get used to it.

By the end of the book you will want to pick up The New World immediately after. There’s a fantastic reveal at the end and there’s so much momentum from this book that you don’t want to stop until you’ve read the entire story. Have the third book nearby once you finish Cartomancy, it’ll be far too difficult to keep the suspense at bay.


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