Barbara Hodgson, Chronicle Books, . . Chronicle, $24.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-8118-2892-5

Hodgson's cleverly illustrated novel takes the reader on a fabulous journey, not only to the Aurora Islands, a mysterious trio of land formations that obsess the eccentric and delightful Hippolyte Webb, but also on a touching pilgrimage of faith. Webb, an oddball of a young man who collects ancient maps, is a born adventurer. In him, Hodgson (The Sensualist) has crafted the ultimate explorer, one who favors the tools and primitive science of the 18th and 19th centuries over the advances and conveniences of our modern-day world and craves to experience places unknown to mankind. For this particular journey, Webb comes up with the brilliant plan to turn the story of what he is sure will be an amazing discovery into a book. The Auroras, which appeared in the South Atlantic on ancient maps, have disappeared from the contemporary record. Hodgson not only takes us into Webb's mind as he plans and sets out on his fantastic voyage, but also lavishly illustrates her tale with drawings, calculations, photographs and research. The enchanting Webb is vividly realized, as are the wonders of his solo journey to the Southern Hemisphere. The real fun begins when Webb's footloose existence clashes with the precise, ordered world of Marie Simplon, his New York editor. Did the trip really take place, or was it all a sham? In her quest to discover the truth about Webb's journey, Marie is forced to examine the boundaries of her own life as well as her attraction to this wildly unconventional man. Hodgson, using her talents as both writer and artist, once again displays her gift for bringing charmingly idiosyncratic characters to life. (Sept.)

Forecast:For the price, this is an elaborately designed book, and should attract browsers who favor the sepia tones of ancient maps and documents.