Review: The Crimson Skew (The Mapmaker’s Trilogy #3)

the crimson skew s.e. grove the mapmakers' trilogy #3The final volume in S.E. Grove’s stunning, bestselling Mapmakers trilogy.

At the end of The Golden Specific, Sophia was on her way home to Boston, anticipating her reunion with Theo. But he has been conscripted to fight in the Western War—Prime Minister Broadgirdle’s twisted vision of Manifest Destiny. Shadrack is in his thrall as War Cartologer and cannot help his niece.

Sophia leaves right away to track down her best friend and solve the mystery of her parents once and for all. Then Shadrack hears of a horrifying weapon. It is a red fog called the Crimson Skew, and if you inhale it, you become a murderer. Sophia and her companions—and Theo’s army company—are directly in its path. There is a fate worse than death, and it is about to ruin their lives…

This book is excellent. Filled with adventure, mysteries and a pinch of magic, it’s a wonderful work of fantasy. But, perhaps more crucially, this book is important.

The Crimson Skew is about a world in political turmoil; distrust of other nations is high, borders are closed to foreigners, wars are waged over useless land, and corrupt politicians force themselves into positions of power. This is true of our history, but also of our present. One need only look a newspaper or watch the news to find current examples, making books like these that show the costs of war and distrust so plainly much needed and so so important. The Crimson Skew takes a very critical look at politics and shows how closing borders only leads to isolation and tanks the economy, that all wars are pointless and never worth the cost of lives, and that suspicion breeds fear in a self-perpetuating cycle. Also of note is the effort Grove makes to include First Nations peoples as both an essential part of the plot and as main characters, something sorely lacking in most fiction. 

The plot alternates between Sofia’s journey, Theo’s time in the army, and Shadrack’s race to bring Broadgirdle to justice, keeping the story moving quickly and suspensefully. On top of that, the world-building continues to be highly innovative. Often authors come up with a brilliant concept but get stuck when expanding it into a series. Grove neatly sidesteps the issue by coming up with such a complex and creative idea – that countries are scattered throughout time – that you could easily spend more than three books expanding the universe. The histories and politics of each world, their technology, their beliefs, their magic… there is so much to cover, all equally interesting. Thankfully, the clever notes starting each chapter continue to be a brilliant way to pack in as much information as possible without bogging down the plot.

The Crimson Skew also features some new elements. The novel explores the possibility that everything is a memory map, if only we could tap into it. Unlike the maps Sofia encountered previously, which are created with great intent and take a lot of skill to read, these are stored within living things and recreate the emotions and experiences of the owner. The implications of this are not ignored, and the book discusses the importance of memories and remembering the past, restating the old adage: those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Another new and exciting element is the crimson fog – a poison that makes you see things that aren’t real and as a result, turn on your neighbours, family and friends.

At the tense climax of the novel, the plot comes to a highly realistic and satisfying conclusion. Things don’t always go quite as you’d ideally like them too, but that makes for a stronger finish. Also, things left unanswered from the first two books do get explained, and there are no questions left over at the end. Yet despite the neat ending, I’m still wanting more. Usually I balk at the idea of spin-offs, but for the first time, I’d love more stories set in the same world!

As the Mapmaker’s Trilogy straddles the line between middle grade and young adult, it has excellent cross-over appeal. Sofia and Theo are teenagers, but the plot fits middle grade conventions. At the same time, the story is complex and thought provoking enough for adults to enjoy too.  I’d highly recommend this trilogy to anyone who loves creative and and adventurous fantasy novels.


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