Thursday, December 2, 2021

Review: The Cartographer's Secret by Tea Cooper

When you stop to think of the historical men (and it's always men) the world over who strode off into the unknown to map places only known to indigenous peoples that lived there, the words that come to mind are a mix of impressed and appalled: brave and crazy, fearless and reckless, determined and foolhardy. And these words generally apply to both the successful and the unsuccessful surveyors. If these are the words we apply to men, what then are the words we would apply to the women who would also map and uncover the world beyond their own doors? Headstrong? Independent? Mad? Obsessed? Tea Cooper has written a sweeping story about two such women, Evie Ludgrove, who disappeared in 1880 chasing after the fate of famed Australian explorer Dr. Ludwig Leichhart, and her niece Lettie Rawlings, who tries to discover her aunt's fate 30 years later.

1911. Thorne Rawlings is killed in a freak accident. Still mourning her beloved brother, Letitia Rawlings volunteers to drive her Model T to Wollombi in the Hunter Valley to inform her Great-Aunt Olivia of the family's loss. She does this both to escape her mother's scheming about her future and to discover why the family is so estranged. Lettie is not a young woman interested in conforming to society's or her mother's expectations so a little distance is not a bad thing. While she is at Wollombi, Lettie starts to learn about her Aunt Evie, who went missing without a trace in 1880, and about all of the carefully long-hidden family secrets at the root of the estrangement. When she finds a beautifully illustrated map drawn by Evie, Lettie is completely drawn into the mystery of this unexplained disappearance.

Alternating with the stories that Lettie is uncovering is Evie's story. She was consumed by the tales her father told of once being a part of Dr. Ludwig Leichhart's expedition and she, as much as he, wanted to figure out Leichhart's final fate. With her mother newly dead and her sister preparing to leave for Sydney to meet and marry a suitor, Evie longs to solve the puzzle for her father before his return from escorting her sister. She and her Aunt Olivia are close but she doesn't share the details of her plans as she sets out on her fateful journey, leaving nothing but questions 30 years later.

Both Evie and Lettie are independent and capable women, beyond what their respective eras allow. Each is curious and intelligent, observant and occasionally foolhardy. The family secrets combined with the never solved, real life riddle of Leichhart's disappearance works quite well. Cooper has evoked rural Australia and the time period beautifully, transporting the reader into the setting. There is a light romantic element here but it never takes center stage, instead complimenting and enriching the main story line. The reader will want to keep turning pages to see Evie's fate as Lettie slowly uncovers it and although the family secret isn't really a surprise at all, it fits the narrative well. This is a quite satisfying novel for readers of historical fiction, especially those who like for elements of real life to have inspired the story in some measure. Are Evie and Lettie headstrong, independent, and obsessed? No question. They are also brave, fearless, sometimes reckless, and determined. In short, they are the very best of both exploring women and men and readers will enjoy their time with these clever women.

For more information about Tea Cooper and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book, and purchase here.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and publisher Harper Muse for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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