War of the Maps by Paul McAuley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWar of the Maps by Paul McAuley science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWar of the Maps by Paul McAuley

On an artificially created planet made up of numerous islands, a middle-aged man called the lucidor is stalking his prey. At first, we don’t know much about Remfrey He, the man the lucidor hunts, except that he’s an arrogant and corrupt man who, thanks to the lucidor’s detective work, was convicted and imprisoned years ago. But now he’s been set free because his skills will be helpful in fighting “the invasion,” a war with an unknown enemy which has brought genetically engineered monsters to the realm. These creatures are scary and deadly and Remfrey He says he can help the army defeat them.

But the lucidor believes that Remfrey He is the more terrible monster so, in protest, he has resigned from the department and set out to recapture his enemy. The lucidor’s former colleagues, though, have been ordered to stop the lucidor from interfering. Consequently, the lucidor is both hunter and hunted.

As the story progresses, we learn more about both men and the world they live in while meeting other inhabitants of this strange biosphere. Some will help our hero in his quest and some will attempt to thwart him.

Paul McAuley’s War of the Maps (2020), a finalist for the Locus Award for Best Novel, has a relatively small cast and a straightforward plot. Its most striking feature is the world building. The lucidor’s world appears to have been created by beings its citizens call “gods” who had plastics, telephones, solar panels, robotic lawnmowers, and other technology.

Paul McAuley

Paul McAuley

The gods died, or got bored and left, or did something that left the inhabitants without their guidance. Some stuff works and some stuff doesn’t and they have not been able to figure out how to engineer the technology for themselves. Thus, the lucidor travels by foot, horse, train, and boat, but never by car or airplane. It’s delightfully jarring when he visits a woman who sequences DNA in her kitchen.

It’s tempting to assume that this world’s gods are our future descendants who’ve built something like a Dyson Sphere in our own universe, but there’s magic in this world, also. Some people have certain supernatural powers and the lucidor has the unusual ability to dampen other people’s power.

The lucidor, an honorable, driven, relentless, and curious man, is a pleasant hero but the sociopathic villain of this story is overdone, almost hilariously evil. The ending is both triumphant and devastating.

As much as I was curious about this weird world, I have to say that the story was not that exciting. There’s a lot of traveling, trying to avoid pursuers, and trying to figure out where the lucidor’s quarry went. There are a couple of detours, a few fights, two disastrous boat rides, a mutiny, attacks by the aforementioned monsters, incarcerations, and some interesting discussions about whether a free market society is better than socialism. I was never bored with the lucidor’s quest, but I was never too excited by it, either. I do, however, really want to read another story set in this fascinating world.

The audiobook of War of the Maps has just been released by Tantor Audio and is beautifully performed by Jonathan Oliver. Oliver’s warm British accent feels right for this story and he gets the tone and pacing just right. The audiobook is nearly 16 hours long.

Published in 2020. On a giant artificial world surrounding an artificial sun, one man – a lucidor, a keeper of the peace, a policeman – is on the hunt. His target was responsible for an atrocity, but is too valuable to the government to be truly punished. Instead he has been sent to the frontlines of the war, to use his unique talents on the enemy. So the lucidor has ignored orders, deserted from his job, left his home and thrown his life away, in order to finally claim justice. Separated by massive seas, the various maps dotted on the surface of this world rarely contact each other. But something has begun to infiltrate the edges of the lucidor’s map, something that genetically alters animals and plants and turns them into killers. Only the lucidor knows the depths to which his quarry will sink in order to survive, only the lucidor can capture him. The way is long and dangerous. The lucidor’s government has set hunters after him. He has no friends, no resources, no plan. But he does have a mission.


  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.