Side note: I just finished Beyonders: A World Without Heroes by Brandon Mull, author of the great juvie series Fablehaven. I think Mull has outdone himself, and I cannot wait to read the next installment in this new series! Since Ruby reviewed it a few weeks back, I've added my thoughts to hers--check out this amazing, incredible new fantasy (just released last week)!
The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
(Review based on Advanced Reader Copy.)
There seems to be an abundance of strong middle-reader fantasy books lately! John Stephen's debut novel, The Emerald Atlas, has a great magical tingle to it. If you combined the Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, Fablehaven, and the Lord of the Rings, to name a few, you would have a really good feel for the spunky fun, adventure, and depth of The Emerald Atlas.
Atlas features three "orphaned" siblings--Kate, Michael, and Emma--who were long ago sent away for safe keeping by parents they hardly remember, and they are still waiting, years later, for their parents' return. Kate and her siblings find themselves shuttled from orphanage to orphanage until they end up in a forgotten-looking mansion in a desolate-looking town with a strange old man as their caregiver. Upon searching the house, they find a magic book that resembles an album, and when Michael puts a picture in it, all three kids are magically transferred to the time and location of the photo!
Suddenly the town is full of anguished parents and kids, separated by a cruel but beautiful sorceress (with the requisite simpering sidekick) who oppresses the people in a search for the very book that brought the children back in time. As the adventure continues, we learn that this ancient, magical tome allows users to alter history and even rewrite the creation of the world as we know it.
Through separation, hardship, and the making of both friends and enemies, the three children find themselves caught up in an adventure 30 years before they were born, trying to prevent disaster, protect themselves, and figure out their own past along the way. They travel through thick forests, down steep cliffs laced with waterfalls, deep underground into ancient magical cities. I found it particularly refreshing to see the space-time continuum used in such a detailed way in a middle-reader book--not to say it hasn't been done before, but in The Emerald Atlas it's done with a specific attention to consequences of actions, changing of events, and responsibility. The deeper they get in the quest they're on, the more involved the siblings become with the magic they've unleashed, and it's up to each of the brother and sisters to learn about it and themselves to survive, all the while unlocking secrets to their past.
The first in the Books of Beginnings trilogy, Atlas is full of intriguing characters, mostly unique, though some generalized through cliche characteristics (the occasional dwarf, for example, though adamantly idolized by Michael, seems a bit familiar from other fantasy tales). Overall the children's adventures make an exhilarating story full of epic battles and snarky, humorous bickering among siblings. The blurb on my galley copy of the book said I would laugh and cry; I did, which tells me that I was emotionally invested in the characters Stephens introduced, a laudable feat. Smart, funny, and full of adventure--it's hard to go wrong with that combination!
The Emerald Atlas hits shelves on April 5th.
Copyright April 2011
Available as an eBook (at publication)
Image from www.goodreads.com
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