A map of skin etched in blood.
A world under threat from the Borderlands.
A young woman who must risk the shadows to save her family.
When her Grandfather is murdered under mysterious circumstances, Sienna Farren inherits his map shop in the ancient city of Bath, England. Once there, she discovers that her family is bound up with the Ministry of Maps, a mysterious agency who maintain the borders between this world and the Uncharted. With the help of Mila Wendell, a traveller on the canals, Sienna discovers her own magical ability and a terrifying place of blood that awaits in the world beyond. But when she discovers a truth about her past and the Borderlands begin to push through the defenses, Sienna must join the team of Mapwalkers on their mission to find the Map of Shadows – whatever the cost. In a place written out of history, a world off the edge of the map, Sienna must risk everything to find her father … and her true path as a Mapwalker. This dark fantasy novel is the first in the new Mapwalker series.
Joanna is known for her excellent thrillers, so when I learned that she'd begun a new dark fantasy series I was quick to check it out. It's set in my beloved England, and rounds out our bundle with a tale set in the modern day. I love the whole concept of Mapwalkers and the Ministry of Maps, and can't wait to read the upcoming books in this series. – Charlotte E. English
"Extraordinary, full of wonder and light and genuine magic."– Michaelbrent Collings, Award-winning horror writer
"a heart pounding hellacious read, one that's well researched, puts you right in the pages, full of heart pounding twist and turns and leaves you begging for more."– HornFan2 (Mike) on Goodreads
"Oh my gosh!!!! This book was soooooo good!!! Right from the very beginning of this book, it just took off full steam ahead with no slowing down!"– CompletelyMelanie on Goodreads
Michael Farren sat at his desk in the old map shop, an antique parchment in front of him portraying the ancient city of Bath. An oversize globe sat on a low table nearby, its sepia tint displaying a seventeenth-century world that no longer existed. The borders had moved, the names of the countries had changed, and yet he kept it here to remind himself of what had once been. And what could be again.
His shop sat on Elizabeth Buildings, around the corner from The Circus, a circle of power built around one of the porous gates into the Borderlands. By day, he sold vintage maps to visiting tourists. By night, he watched and waited, performing the etching ritual. His gnarled hand held the fountain pen he had used for a lifetime of cartography as he traced over the fading lines on the map with a fine nib.
But tonight, Michael's hand shook as he etched the lines he knew so well with ink of blood and pitch. He tried to concentrate on the arc of the Royal Crescent, the straight line of Brock Street and the curves of The Circus. They were symbols of ancient Druids, a crescent moon attached to the sun by a narrow ley line, a power running deep under the earth.
The Circus was modeled on Stonehenge, the outer circumference matching the temple of Druidic power not far from here on Salisbury Plain. The Mapwalkers had protected the border for so long, but now, something was coming. It had been building in strength, biding its time, waiting until the Ministry was weak. Now there were only a few pure blood Mapwalkers left, and the Shadow Cartographers were rising.
The clock struck one and the cry of a night bird came from outside Michael's open window. The air smelled of summer, elderflower and honeysuckle … But then, something else.
The air crackled, and the wind picked up, blowing into the shop. The maps on the walls lifted, their rustling sound speaking of change and borders redrawn.
"No, no," Michael whispered as he traced the lines faster, trying to restore the integrity of the carefully planned city. But his pen slipped as the ink began to rise off the page, a thick black ooze that obscured the precise Georgian streets. In the mirror of its shine, Michael saw the shapes of Borderland creatures, teeth bared as they slunk through the trees. The map began to change, the streets of Bath shifting as darkness crept into squares and gardens.
He reached for the phone, pressing a key code he'd only used once before back in darker days he had hoped never to see again.
"It's weakening," he said to the Ministry official who answered. "I'm going to perform the ritual. Send Bridget as soon as you can, but I'll get started. There's no time to wait."
Ignoring the protests on the other end of the line, Michael hung up. He grabbed his leather satchel and walked out of the door into the little pedestrianized street. Clouds scudded across the night sky above him, and a sudden freezing wind whipped his coat around his legs, blustering down between the buildings.
A howl rose up, a feral sound of wild creatures with no place in this city. Michael quickened his pace, almost jogging to the end of the street, past the art gallery and left towards The Circus, only meters away.
A dense fog, a mist of undulating grey, obscured the circle of tall plane trees in the center of the Georgian terrace. The street-lamps flickered as Michael walked into the round, taking a breath as he tried to see within.
Thunder rolled overhead, and a flash of lightning lit up the sky, arching over the mist as it began to rain. There were shapes within the fog, slinking bodies with sharp teeth, pacing at the edges of the grey as it pushed out away from the inner circle.
Michael's heart raced. It had been a long time since he had faced Borderland creatures, since he had drawn this hard on his blood magic. He had hoped that the sacrifice of his family line was done with and that watching and renewing the lines would be enough. But now, the edges of the Earth-side map were blurring, and if they were to protect the city of Bath and this version of the world, then he had to go in there. It was one level of magic to etch lines on a map, but another to etch them into the earth itself.
He took a step towards the mist, clutching his leather satchel tight against his chest, the instruments of the Cartographer inside. He opened the flap and pulled his antique five-pointed compass from within. It was silver in a turned ivory pocket case, made in the seventeenth century, a time of explorers when the Cartographers were powerful men who carved up the earth, drawing the borders that would shape the political landscape. This compass had been present at the division of the Borderlands when his ancestors had shored up the boundary lines. Its needle had pointed to true north since that day.
Now Michael looked down as the needle spun around, wildly oscillating back and forth, unable to discern the right heading. He tucked it inside his waistcoat pocket, taking another step forward, steeling himself to enter the haze.
Tendrils of mist curled out towards him, wrapping around his feet, a subtle pressure, probing, testing. A chill ran through his bones and Michael gasped at its touch. He sensed the influence of a Shadow Cartographer here, one of those who sought to redraw the boundary and open the porous border to the feral horde beyond. He had to get to the center of the circle before it was too late.
Michael stepped into the mist, and the city of Bath receded, the curved terrace buildings disappearing as he walked further in. The circle of trees was only a few meters across, but it was as if he stepped into a forest. The heavy trunks loomed over him, leaves dripping with rain as it pelted down from above. The air was thick, and Michael's breathing became labored as he struggled to inhale the viscous atmosphere. It stank of the Borderlands beyond, a fetid soup of the diseased and dying, rotting flesh and the rubbish of those clustered in the camps without hope. So unlike the pristine civilization of Bath that he and the Ministry lived to protect.
A howl came from further in, echoed by another, calls from the wild wolves that had once roamed this land. They had been driven into the Borderlands, hunted to the edge of extinction like so many of the species in the realm beyond, waiting for their opportunity to roam free again. But they did not belong here, and he would not allow them to run loose in his city.
Michael caught a glimpse of one behind a tree, its powerful body still as it stared at him with yellow eyes. It growled, baring its teeth. The sound sent a shiver up Michael's spine, the call of the predator triggering ancient fear inside. But this was his realm, even though they were pushing at the boundary. He still held power here.
He pulled a ritual knife from his satchel, the yellowing ivory blade bound with a leather strap, tied into a series of knots around the end. Passed down from the time of the Druids, the blade had been used to sacrifice for many moons, and each drop of blood strengthened its power. The Blood Cartographers used such blades to mark the borders of Earth-side and tonight, Michael would use it once more.
He faced the wolf, drawing himself up to his full height, broadening his shoulders. He met its eyes, holding the knife out in front of him. The wolf sensed something wild within the man and backed away, slinking behind the tree. But Michael knew it would be back, along with its pack. These predators were only the forerunners of what lay beyond. They were sent as scouts, testing the boundaries of how far the Gate could be pushed open. This time, he feared it was wider than ever before.
He didn't have much time.
Michael walked to the center of the great trees, reciting the longitude and latitude of where he stood, the geographical coordinates that anchored the Gate to Earth-side. His voice grew stronger as he spoke, turning the numbers into an incantation. He planted his feet strongly upon the ground and rolled up his sleeve, baring his arm to the chill mist. The vapor curled around him, almost clawing at the scars that patterned his skin over faded tattoos. His veins ran with the pure magic of the Blood Cartographers, and now Michael knew he must call on it once again.
He put the knife against the flesh of his arm and began to carve the lines of the Gate, the circle and the crescent joined by a ley line of power as he chanted the numbers that bound this place to the physical realm. He fell to his knees, dropping the knife beside him as he dipped a finger in his wound and painted over the ground the ancient symbol of the five-pointed compass, the sigil of the Illuminated Cartographer. The storm broke overhead, the wind lashing the branches of the trees into whips that thrashed at the old man as his blood dripped upon the earth.
Michael felt his strength fading, a heaviness creeping over him as the chill mist descended. Dark powers swirled about him, and his voice faltered, hesitating as the numbers began to fade in his mind. His fingers paused over the ground, his blood dripping out. He was suddenly paralyzed, unable to speak.
A figure stepped from the trees, his features obscured by the tendrils of mist that wound around him. He wore a cloak of wolf pelt, an artifact from the Borderlands, but underneath, Michael could see he wore a suit cut from a cloth of earth. This man strode between worlds, a Shadow Cartographer, one of those who sought a new world order by remaking the maps. There was something about him, something familiar, but the mist pressed into Michael's mind, clouding his vision, making him forget.
A low growl came from behind him, and the wolf stepped from the shadows to stand by the Shadow Cartographer, its teeth bared. Behind it, the pack waited, eyes fixed on their prey.
"You're too weak this time, old man. Your kind is ending, and the Borderlanders will soon take what you have kept from them for too long."
Michael heard his words as if from afar, the sound muddled by the heavy atmosphere. In earlier times, this man would not have dared face him, but now he knew the truth. He was old and tired, his magic faded.
The wolves circled closer, sensing his weakness. Michael picked up the knife again, his movements slow as if he was underwater. The blade was heavy in his hand and strength drained from him as his blood ran onto the ground. One wolf darted in to lick at the growing pool. Michael spun with his knife, slicing at the beast but it ducked away unharmed. Another ran in to bite at his legs, its heavy body tipping him off balance. The pack formed a circle around him, teeth bared.
Two of them darted in behind, growling as they tore at his clothes, ripped through to his flesh. Michael spun again, but another two ran forward, worrying at him.
He was outnumbered.
Perhaps that had been the plan all along, after all, he was the watcher on this Gate. He thought of Bridget on her way up from the Ministry. He couldn't let her be taken as well.
He had one chance left to close the Gate, even though it would only hold a short while. But for now, it was the only way.
He looked up at the dark man watching from the shadows. He sensed triumph at the victory to come, but it would end here.
"For Galileo," Michael said, his voice strong as he spoke the words of the Illuminated Cartographer.
The wolves snarled and leapt towards their prey. Michael spun away from them, using the last of his strength to push through the pack.
He turned the blade, pressing it against his chest and hurled himself at the largest of the plane trees. Its hard trunk pushed the knife deep into his heart as Michael wrenched himself sideways, ripping himself open, falling to the ground.
Agony flashed through him as his blood pumped out, soaking the tree roots and the earth where he lay.
But the Gate was renewed by his sacrifice.
The mist curled into a vortex, and the wolves howled as they were sucked back inside the Borderlands. Michael lay panting with pain, trying to hold on long enough to watch the end.
The Shadow Cartographer stood watching him for a moment, resisting the swirl of the wind. "Your kind is ending," he whispered. "Your death only buys a little time before the change to come."
He bent to pick up Michael's five-pointed compass, then slipped it into his pocket as he spun away, stepping back through the Gate of Shade, trailing the last of the mist behind him. The grand Georgian buildings emerged, and through the branches of the trees, Michael could see the stars above. This was his earth still, and Bath was safe.
As his blood pulsed more slowly, Michael thought of his granddaughter, Sienna. He hadn't seen her for so long, staying away in an attempt to shield her from a future he wouldn't wish on anyone. But now it seemed that she might be the only hope to close the borders for good.