I am generally a sucker for time travel or pirates, so I was pretty sure I had hit the jackpot with this book, which combines both. But I wasn’t convinced I had a five star read on my hands until the end. Then my brain exploded. There is a lot of set up to this story that really pays off in the last third of the book. Don’t misunderstand, the first part of the book is still engaging, but it really comes together when all the pieces fall into place in a very satisfying way.
Nix has spent her entire life aboard her father’s ship, sailing across the centuries, across the world, across myth and imagination.
As long as her father has a map for it, he can sail to any time, any place, real or imagined: nineteenth-century China, the land from One Thousand and One Nights, a mythic version of Africa. Along the way they have found crewmates and friends, and even a disarming thief who could come to mean much more to Nix.
But the end to it all looms closer every day.
Her father is obsessed with obtaining the one map, 1868 Honolulu, that could take him back to his lost love, Nix’s mother. Even though getting it—and going there—could erase Nix’s very existence.
For the first time, Nix is entering unknown waters.
She could find herself, find her family, find her own fantastical ability, her own epic love.
Or she could disappear.
Nix is the narrative voice in this story, and it is easy to feel empathy towards her plight. She is also smart and resourceful, but she still manages to make the mistakes and have feelings that teen readers will find believable. The cast of secondary characters is diverse and entertaining, and they have back stories that book lovers and history enthusiasts will adore. While the romantic relationships fell a little flat for me, I think it reflects both Nix’s own inability to make big decisions until her fate is decided, and her formative experiences with Earth-shattering love. I wasn’t bothered when they didn’t sweep me away, but some readers will be disappointed. I think it is more important to consider all the messages about love – the kind you feel for your family, your friends, and even places that you hold sacred. Those are all thoughtfully touched on in this work. The biggest draw for me, though, is the concept. It really grabbed my imagination – time traveling pirates (of a sort) on a quest that takes them to places real and imagined with the help of maps and faith-fueled magic. While some readers might find the rules a little limiting, I thought the idea was sublime. It takes some time to really establish how the idea works, it is so worth the effort. It is also worth your time to read the author’s notes at the end, especially if some of the literary and historical references elude you (I’m an English teacher, and I still found it enlightening). Overall, I think this is a book that will appeal to dreamers and readers with the souls of adventurers, and I have plenty of those in my high school classes. This is definitely going on our classroom library wishlist. Language and situations are appropriate for grades 8+, but it will hold appeal for adult readers as well.
I received an ARC from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.