The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning by John Stephens
|The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning by John Stephens|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Pacy and enjoyable fantasy quest. It has a great balance in the central characters, is easy to read, exciting and ticks all the right boxes for fans of the genre although perhaps not as original as Bookbag had hoped.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 432||Date: April 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
Whisked away from their parents in the dead of night ten years ago, Kate, Michael and Emma have seen more than their fair share of orphanages. Nobody wants to adopt three children together - least of all when the youngest has a strong penchant for using her fists whenever she can - and so when we meet them, they're on their way to yet another. But the orphanage at Cambridge Falls is unlike any other. They're the only children in residence, the housekeeper seems to think they are members of the French royal family, and the town is in the middle of a barren wasteland and is bereft of children.
And then the children find a mysterious old book, slip a photograph inside it and are transported back to the past, to a time when there was still a thick forest near Cambridge Falls and when the town still had children. And if Kate, Michael and Emma can't save them, nobody can. Caught up in a world of magic, dwarves and time travel, they are the children of an ancient prophecy surrounding three magical books of great power. And there are dark forces after them...
I did enjoy The Emerald Atlas - it's a great fantasy quest story, with a good balance in its three central characters, each of whom have flaws to overcome. Kate is so used to taking care of her younger siblings, she finds it difficult to be open and to relinquish control of events. Geeky Michael lacks courage. And feisty Emma is impetuous and pugnacious. The supporting cast are all vivid and eccentric, just as they should be. The goodies show real heroism and the baddies are incorrigible.
It's pacy and tense and I loved the rollercoaster feel of it - as one battle is over and you breathe a sigh of relief, another crisis begins. I also liked the episodic structure of this first in a trilogy. Although we know there is more to come and there are plenty of loose ends to speculate about, the main narrative is resolved. I'm not a fan of cliffhangers and I was very happy not to see one here. The writing is perfectly judged for the tween market - as a television writer, John Stephens knows how to make things visual, and it's accessible but not too simplistic.
Junior fantasy fans are going to love this book, and with a dedicated website including extracts and a really imaginative series of videos, there are plenty of chances to interact. It's not surprising there's a big online buzz about it.
I will say, though, that there really is nothing new to see here. Every trope of the genre is covered: orphaned children, good vs evil, a dark lord, a quest, magic, a hidden world, a prophecy to be fulfilled. You can see the influence of Potter and Middle Earth particularly, and flashes of Narnia too - but The Emerald Atlas doesn't really bring anything fresh to the table. So, although it's a five star book for fantasy fans, those looking for something a little bit different may feel slightly disappointed, especially after all the hype.
My thanks to the good people at Doubleday for sending the book.
If they like quest type fantasies, then we really enjoyed Seven Sorcerers by Caro King. And if it's the passage between alternate realities that attracts them, then we think they would love The Undrowned Child by Michelle Lovric. And of course, it goes without saying that if they haven't read Narnia yet, then they should.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning by John Stephens at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Emerald Atlas: The Books of Beginning by John Stephens at Amazon.com.
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