The Cartographer’s Apprentice by Jim Webster is a collection of four short stories that according to one reviewer serves as an introduction to the writings of Jim Webster. I stumbled across another of his works, Deep Water and Other Stories, got completely lost in the first thirty pages, and decided to find out more about this author and his stories. There are many novels in which an author gets praise for effective and complete world building. Jim Webster is the equal of any writer I’ve read. The world building element all by itself is on a level with Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, and the fantasy novels of J. K. Rowling. The storytelling can become confusing for readers either not familiar with or unwilling to follow British English. This is writing that requires a reader to pay attention. Readers will not be sanctioned for the inattentiveness, but neither will they receive the full rewards of this excellent writing.
This is one of the few cases for which I looked at other reviewer comments before reading. Two reviewers commented; one with a four-star rating, another rated the collection at five stars. One reviewer commented that The Cartographers Apprentice was a good place to start with Jim Webster writings. That was the advice I was looking for. I have found sixteen Kindle publications by Webster. Although I can tell that they are all stand-alone works, I was looking for some organized way to approach them so I would at least be familiar with main characters as they entered the stage. Since this collection begins with The Prequel’s Prequel, I felt I was in the right place.
We begin in the Land of the Three Seas and meet Benor Dorfinngil, two elements which will appear in many later works. Benor begins this short story collection as a person in search of a trade. His father, Jillig, had already picked out a trade for Benor, he was to be a cartographer. Benor would leave Toelar and go to Meor in a sort of apprenticeship program. Benor could not understand why he could not hang out in Toelar and pursue one of his favorite hobbies, the pursuit of married women He did not have to do much pursuing of neighbor Haitha Giltbar; she seemed attracted to him. Expectedly, husband Gartan Giltbar, was not agreeable to Benor’s games, no matter who was the pursued and who was the pursuer. Throughout the stories in this collection, Benor will relocate often in service of his addiction. Benor became very skillful at departing homes in a hurry through windows and escaping along rooftops.
We next meet Benor after he has joined a group of fellow students as an articled Cartographer looking for his first assignment. What better place to find a job than by word of mouth in the company of friends while drinking? It was at The Gallows Tavern near the barracks at Ointment Gripe that the fellows would have their final meeting before taking separate paths to employment. Hurdelk, a miner’s son from Tarsteps, would go home to work with his father. Palothos Custeel would return to his family’s farm. Tiel was a new member of the group and had yet to start studying. He appreciated the company and the information he received from the new graduates. Benor had received hints from Hurdelk that there might be cartography work connected to the family mine in Tarsteps. The fifth member of the group was Amor Amiche-Aranillu, the son of a large landholder who also had many business interests in the town of Seramis. He didn’t mean much as a friend as he would die that same evening.
The above two paragraphs give a brief idea of the creativity of Jim Webster when it comes to names and settings. This passage describing the social stratification that exists in Tarsteps shows a different kind of creativity. Describing two classes of women: “…they are women from ‘Below the Drain.’ It is a woman thing. Women from Tarsteps Proper, or ‘Above the Drain,’ will only marry men who are taller than themselves. But women from below the Drain will happily marry men who are shorter than themselves. Hence the women from Tarsteps Proper regard the women from ‘Below the Drain’ as little more than hussies. Because of this, when out socially women from ‘Below the Drain’ wear veils to show that they are modest and concerned about maintaining proper decorum.” (Kindle Location 2014).
This deserves five-star Amazon. I am looking forward to reading all of his Kindle novels. The paperback editions cost too much.