Each time we open a book, we go to a new place, meet people we've usually not known before, and enter into their story. It's been quite some time since I've opened the cover of a book and felt myself drawn immediately into sacred space as I was by Ronlyn Domingue's compelling The Mapmaker's War.
Aoife [ee-fah] is now near the end of her life and it is time to write her stories from the map of her heart. As a child, she lived at the edge of a forest and was frequently drawn to the quiet shade within. Deemed a "wild child" by the nursemaid and "uncivilized" by her mother, her father Ciaran [keer-ahn] encouraged her to seek the fresh air and exercise provided by the outdoors.
In a singular writing style, where Aoife "addresses herself throughout and appears to be her own audience," Domingue opens Aoife's story on a day she prepares to enter the forest.
"With meticulous care, you planned your provisions, though not your expeditions. Adventure wasn't in the hunger to come but in the quest of what to follow. You packed your pouch — nuts and fruit, soft bread and hard cheese — along with parchment and ink, cloth scraps and straight edges.
You mapped the hidden worlds when you were still young enough to see them.
Spiderwebs and honeycombs taught the wisdom of symmetry. To you, everything before your eyes was built upon invisible lines and angles. The very spot where you stood only a point among many. A girl is not always in her place, you thought. A girl can be many places at once. And so you were. When you settled upon a space in the forest or meadow, you made a grid on the earth with small steps and tiny flags until there were row upon row of even little squares. You took your seat within the grid. You moved from square to square, noting what stood still and what passed by. All day long you observed and measured, sketched and colored. That which was off the edges appeared on the parchment as well. There were mysterious realms of bees and ants and creatures never seen before, with tiny castles and bright gardens."
As she maps the forest world, Aoife learns she doesn't want to step into the expected feminine role of wife and mother. She wants to be a mapmaker, and her father supports her. Yet, all too soon, her physical attraction to Wyl [Will], the king's son whom she meets in the forest, seduces her away from the direction her heart pleads for. She becomes pregnant with twins and while Wyl is joyous to marry her, his royal family is not. Yet they marry, and the ensuing years unfold with much pain and difficulty.
Aoife's journey is mesmerizing, as ever so gradually and agonizingly, she finds her way back to her true path. The story is filled with breathtaking description of place and incredibly rich metaphor. Although Domingue has uniquely written Aiofe's story as a legend, her readers will identify with it as the universal story of a woman who veers from her heart's true journey. This is a book I will lovingly and long remember.
Ronlyn Domingue's critically acclaimed debut novel, The Mercy of Thin Air, was published in ten languages. Her work has appeared in The Beautiful Anthology, New England Review, The Independent [US], and Shambhala Sun, and online at The Nervous Breakdown. She lives in Louisiana with her partner, Todd Bourque, and their cats. Connect with her on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.
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