Having read and loved Sarah McCoy’s previous novel, The Baker’s Daughter, I was excited to read her latest book. Diving deep into historical fiction, The Mapmaker’s Children reimagines the life of Sarah Brown. She was the daughter of John Brown, an abolitionist who attempted to start a slave insurrection at Harper’s Ferry in 1859; he survived the attack and was hanged for treason. Three of his sons also died for the cause, two of them at Harper’s Ferry.
In McCoy’s book, Sarah Brown plays a small but important role in the Underground Railroad, painting maps in code that slaves would then use to navigate their way to freedom. As a direct relative of John Brown, times are dangerous for her surviving family, but Sarah is determined to further the abolitionist cause in any way she can.
A century and a half later, a woman named Eden Anderson has just moved into an old house in New Charlestown, West Virginia. She and her husband, Jack, need a break from fast-paced city life; they’ve been trying to conceive a child, but several miscarriages later, their relationship is hanging by a thread. Jack is trying to be supportive, but Eden is taking the loss very hard; she’s furious when Jack comes home with a puppy, as if that could serve as a substitute for a child.
The book’s chapters alternate between the past in the present, tracing Sarah’s life through the dangers of the South all the way across the country to her eventual resettlement in the West. Eden’s timeline traces her settling into small town Southern life; a chance discovery of artifacts in a hidden cellar has her pondering the history of her house.
The amount of detail that went into this book really is remarkable. There’s a lot of actual historical detail woven into the narrative, and much of it feels seamless. The Author’s Note at the end of the book that talks about the research process; McCoy spent over three years tracing Sarah Brown’s journey across the country, and it shows in her descriptions of those places. Though the narrative is a fictionalized account of Brown’s life, it’s those details that give the story a realistic grounding. Although it took me a while to warm up to both women, the payoff was worth it in the end.
The Mapmaker’s Children was released on paperback on February 9, 2016 by Broadway Books. The book is on tour right now, so be sure to check out what other bloggers are saying about it.