The Mapmaker’s Children

Written by Sarah McCoy
Review by Linda Harris Sittig

This story takes place (most of the time) in New Charlestown, West Virginia during two different centuries tied together by a vintage doll’s head and two protagonists: Sarah Brown in 1859 and Eden Anderson in 2014. The novel brings the haunting history of the past to collide with the drama of the present, once the reader begins to realize that the New Charlestown house in the narrative once was, and is now, a safe haven for both protagonists.

Sarah is the daughter of the infamous John Brown, who was hanged for treason in 1859 when the country trembled on the brink of civil war. Eden is a young woman who believes her marriage is crumbling because she has been unable to bear a child. As Eden resolves to get her house designated for historic preservation, and thereby increase its sales potential, she discovers an old doll’s head shoved into what once was an underground root cellar.

As the chapters alternate from past to present, two tales emerge and merge with stories of the Underground Railroad near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and Sarah Brown’s fervent passion for painting subtle escape maps that point the way to freedom. As Eden’s marriage flounders, she begins to hunt for clues about the painted doll’s head, eventually bringing both stories to a satisfying conclusion.

As a history buff, I enjoyed the novel because it gave me a deeper understanding about the trial of John Brown, and the ensuing firestorm inflicted upon his wife and children. I particularly liked how the doll’s head eventually leads to connecting all the characters in the story, both past and present, and represents how artifacts can lead us back to a more enlightened understanding of history.