I’ve been fascinated by the story of John Brown since I was in elementary school and first heard the song about him. It was a really morbid song for little kids to learn but it also made me want to know more, possibly because some of my ancestors were involved in the Underground Railroad. So when I read the publisher’s brief description for bestselling author Sarah McCoy’s new novel, The Mapmaker’s Children, I knew I had to read it. The historical elements of this story are very well done, yet it’s the personal stories, both contemporary and historical, that make it a riveting read. If you’re a historical fiction fan, you’ll definitely want to know more about this one and, even if you’re not, I think it will intrigue you because of the links between history and the present. And one of you is going to win a copy in our pay-it-forward book giveaway!
Eden and her husband have bought a charming if quirky old house in New Charlestown, West Virginia. They’ve fled the city for the suburbs in hopes that it will be a better place to raise the family they hope to have soon. There’s a lot of adjusting to do when you move from a major urban area to a small town, and Eden is chaffing at having left her lucrative career behind. Still, they both agreed it was the right decision to make.
Now if she could only get pregnant…minor detail. She never imagined it could be so hard to have a baby or so heartbreaking when you have a miscarriage. It always seemed like the most natural thing in the world. What is wrong with her? Why is she having so much trouble getting pregnant and why, when she finally gets pregnant, do the babies not want to stay long enough to be born? She just doesn’t know if she can take much more of this, and it’s not just destroying her but her out of control hormone side effects are even making her question her relationship with her husband. Maybe she wasn’t meant to be a mother or a wife…
“They’d spent seven good, earnest years of trying to make their union fruitful and had failed. She’d failed. It was time to cut her losses. She could live like this the rest of her days, being reminded of that every time she looked at Jack or walked into the house’s pantry, for God’s sake. She’d be like that doll’s head [she’d found], locked up in the pit [under the floor], forgotten, powerless, still on earth but dead.”
But let’s back up a century or so just for a minute – back to about 1859 in North Elba, New York. Mary Brown and her two daughters, Sarah and Little Ellen, have stayed behind while her husband, John Brown, has taken a group of abolitionists, including his own sons, to Harper’s Ferry, near Charles Town, West Virginia, to strike what he hoped would be a definitive blow against slavery. He firmly believes you have to fight fire with fire and, despite pleas from more pacifist abolitionists, he plans to show the slaveholders once and for all that their inhumane acts against their fellow human beings will no longer be tolerated.
Unfortunately, only Owen, one of Brown’s sons, escapes from Harper’s Ferry to tell Mary Brown and her daughters the horrible news. The raid was a disaster and John Brown is in jail, waiting to be tried and hung – because there is no question of how the verdict will read. All other members of the raiding party are dead, in jail, or have fled into obscurity as fugitives to hide out until it’s safe to re-emerge.
Sarah had wanted to be involved in her father’s work and to help guide slaves along the Underground Railroad stations, so she devised a pictograph map using coded symbols found in slave quilts…symbols the slaves could decipher even though they couldn’t read. It worked beautifully but then one landed in the wrong hands and now Sarah is in danger if they learn she was the person who made them.
“…The copy Owen handed her was a messy blur of imprecise ink.
‘The southern lawmen have copies.’ Owen stuck a grimy finger to the page. ‘They’re looking for the man who drew this map and swear he’ll hang for treason, too.’
‘I –‘ Sarah began, but Mary and Ellen returned.
Owen quickly crumbled the page into his palm. ‘I must go,’ he took the sack of food and provisions without thanks.
‘To Canada?’ asked Mary.
‘No.’ Owen fingered his stitched forehead, then looked away. ‘I’ll send word when it’s safe. If you don’t hear from me, it’s better.’ He marched toward the door, stopped, and locked eyes with Sarah. ‘No more. Whatever they say or do.’ He shook his head. ‘Let them advance without further sacrificial Browns. We’ve spilled enough blood. It’s over, Sarah.’…
Sarah gritted her teeth. ‘You’re wrong, Owen. It’s just beginning.’”
The remains of the Brown family travel to Charles Town for the trial and stay with fellow abolitionists, hoping for a miracle that isn’t going to come.
Sarah will continue to help slaves find their way North, but what creative ways will she devise to escape notice by slaveholders and lawmen? How will her choices and choices taken away from her shape her life and those she loves? Eden will research their old house and the odd doll’s head she found in the pit under the floor, having no idea what a pivotal role it played in the Brown family’s history. Can she find a way to make peace with her inability to have children? Can she or will she even want to save her marriage? Will she stay in New Charlestown or will she flee back to the city?
Sarah and Eden are both very strong, independent women who are handed repeated setbacks that could have destroyed a lesser person. I admired them both, even when they were being pigheaded about it. There’s a strong stubborn gene in my family too. When it works for good, it becomes wonderful persistence and determination. When it puts blinders on, well, not so much. I got a bit irked with Eden at times but I do know what out of control hormone shifts can do to a woman – been there, done that, don’t want to ever do it again. There are a lot of very dedicated people in this novel, male and female, and all are doing the best they can do under the circumstances. They don’t always get it right, and they are still determined to carry on anyway…the human spirit at its best.
I devoured The Mapmaker’s Children basically in one sitting. I literally couldn’t put it down. I was swept up into these people’s lives immediately and had to find out what became of them. At first, I just could not see how Eden and Sarah related to each other but when I did, it was an Aha! moment and I won’t spoil that for you. This is one of the books I’ve read that I was itching to share with you the whole time I was on my reduced renovation review schedule. I’m so relieved to finally be able to do that. Yes, I’m recommending this one – as if you couldn’t already tell. This is one book giveaway you will not want to miss!
Can’t wait to read it?
The Mapmaker’s Children was published on May 5, 2015, so it’s available in all formats from your favorite online bookseller below (or in the right column for iBooks). If you download it as an e-book, you can have it to read immediately!
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