Servants of the Map is technically a short story collection. However, the individual stories aren't particularly short and they all turn out to be related to one another in some manner, big or small. And in turn, these stories are connected to other books by Barrett. Which I now just HAVE to read and conveniently already own. I love it when a plan comes together.
I enjoy the links to scientific discovery that each story contains. Nowhere is it overly technical, but it does remind you that the great explorers and discovers had some mix of parents, wives, siblings, and children that they had relationships with, along with the geopolitical realities of their times.
Andrea Barrett is extraordinarily economical with her prose. She can tell you more in a page and a half than most can in thirty pages, and do it elegantly, too! In this way, Servants stands in sharp and pleasant contrast with the long and dense The Great Glass Sea, which I recently finished.
And another thing about Barrett. Many authors use characters who are borderline insane or evil to drive conflict forward, or plot events that are cruel or violent, to show how their characters persevere. But pretty much everyone in Servants of the Map is within the bounds of what reasonable people would call normal. They might be interested in unusual things, but they are decent and human. As one review I read said, "How often do you find a story where two characters who are each likable themselves, fail to get along?" In fact the subtitle of this book could be: Servants of the Map: Adventures in Ambivalent Siblings. But even so, no one would say that these characters had it easy, and some had it very rough indeed.
I don't know, I feel like I'm really failing to do the book justice here. It hits all of my high points: Invokes a strong sense of nostalgia? Check. Multiple narratives that don't progress linearly? Check. Geographic/scientific bent? Check. Wonderful and imaginative ways of turning a phrase? Yep, it's all here.
Sometimes a person and book just click and this one did for me. Don't wait as long as I did to start reading Barrett!