Sunday, May 1, 2011

Review of The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Stephens, John.  The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning #1).  Knopf, 2011.

There is nothing new under the sun, and this plot will sound familiar - 3 very young children are ripped away from their parents when evil comes calling, and spend the next 10 years in nasty orphanages, each one worse than the last.  After being sent to a mysterious old house, they find a magic book, go back in time, discover that they are children of destiny whose coming has been prophesied, and defeat a nasty villain - and yet a far nastier piece of work is still lying in wait for them, and he has imprisoned their long-lost parents.

That's just the bones of the story, however; it's the lovely details and eccentric characters that flesh out the story and give it heart.  There is 11-year-old Emma, who is impatient, fierce, and brave, and whose ferocious love and loyalty toward the heroic Gabriel is one of most tender aspects of the book.  There is 12-year-old Michael, whose tendency toward didacticism and geeky fan boy love of all things Dwarf are quite endearing (well, not to Emma).  And there is Kate, their 14-year-old sister, who is just trying to keep everyone safe and together in rather trying circumstances.

Vicious critters abound, but we don't gain much understanding of their motivation or background (and it's a good thing, because they get slaughtered like so many cockroaches when our heroes finally prevail).  The evil Countess is power-hungry and intriguing but ultimately banal.  The Dire Magnus, though - I have some real hope that his personality is as fascinating and evil as his name.

This is a fine roller-coaster ride of a story, with time travel, eccentric dwarfs, ample opportunity for heroic gestures, and a finale that has a surprising amount of emotional resonance.  I was actually reminded of the way I feel at the end of a Narnia book - all full of sadness (that it's over), joy (at the satisfying and heartwarming ending), fear (because of the dangers ahead for the siblings), and anticipation (there will be two more, at least!).

Highly recommended for most fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy the Narnia books, Emily Rodda's Rondo series, Holly Lisle's Moon and Sun series, and other similar fantasies.  For ages 9 to 12.


  1. I'm reading this now, so I'll have to come back and read your thoughts more carefully when I'm done! I'm enjoying it well enough so far...But I'm not entirely convince yet that it deserves all the hype it's gotten.

  2. The characters are great although some of the characters reminded me of others. For instance, Granny reminded my a little bit of Yoda and the secretary reminded me of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. It's not that they were exact copies but there was something about their characters that brought these others to mind. This did not take away from the story at all. This is the first book in the series and I can't wait to see what happens next. I really enjoyed getting to know these characters.