The Word for Mapmaker is Also the Word for Traitor
Autobiography of a Traitor and Half Savage
by Alix E. Harrow
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“Without us, the land won’t lie still. It writhes and twists beneath their compasses, so that a crew of surveyors might make the most meticulous measurements imaginable, plotting out each hill and bluff and bend in the river, and when they return the next day everything is a mirror image of itself. Or the river splits in two and one branch wanders off into hills that shimmer slightly in the dawn, or the bluffs are now far too high to climb and must be gone around. Or the crew simply disappears and returns weeks later looking hungry and haunted.”―
Alix E. Harrow, Autobiography of a Traitor and Half Savage
“Oona’s blood is a river delta blending east and west, her hair red as Tennessee clay, her heart tangled as the wild lands she maps. By tracing rivers in ink on paper, Oona pins the land down to one reality and betrays her people. Can she escape the bonds of gold and blood and bone that tie her to the Imperial American River Company?”
In the world of Autobiography of a Traitor and Half Savage by Alis E. Harrow, Oona is a traitor. Born to a westerner woman and an easterner man, she already lived upon the dividing line of two worlds and considered a half-breed child, not enough of either land to be claimed by it. Now she is a mapmaker, and in her native language, a mapmaker means a traitor.
Imagine two worlds, on one side, The East, where the land is claimed and calm. Mountains stay where they are supposed to, rivers do not wind, and bend to patterns of their devising. The West is wild and free. Dangerous and magical. Of course, the people of the East want to claim and conquer the land of the West.
IN OUR LANGUAGE, THE WORD FOR MAPMAKER IS ALSO THE WORD FOR TRAITOR.
Oona and her brother Ira, son of another lover of her mothers, are trying to make it on their own. Ira is struck down with tuberculosis. Oona must care for him. So Oona becomes a mapmaker. She helps define a path for an Eastern-based company, Great Eastern River Company, that wants to explore and conquer the land. Oona, as a mapmaker, can calm the wildness of the land. The company knows this, so they yoke her to their cause by the love she has for her brother. How will Oona survive the two worlds that are slowly tearing her apart?
Harrow writes with beauty and a keen understanding of the power of words and language. Her narrative is melodic and almost lyrical. She writes as if she is describing the warring of the lands and the wildness of the WestWest in poetry. It is magical. I love that she took the idea of Western expansion and manifest destiny and turned it on its ear.
You can try and manifest your destiny, but what if the land fights back and does not want to be tamed?
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Elizabeth Tabler runs Beforewegoblog and is constantly immersed in fantasy stories. She was at one time an architect but divides her time now between her family in Portland, Oregon, and as many book worlds as she can get her hands on. She is also a huge fan of Self Published fantasy and is on Team Qwillery as a judge for SPFBO5. You will find her with a coffee in one hand and her iPad in the other. Find her on: Goodreads / Instagram / Pinterest / Twitter