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The Emerald Atlas by J. Stephens

Stephens, John. The Emerald Atlas. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Print.

Unbeknownst to them, siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma are the children of a prophecy and they each have a destiny to fulfill. They were taken from their parents as young children for protection and shuffled around to a series of orphanages. Still, they behave like typical siblings, teasing each other and being at times pouty or snarky, adding much humour to the tale. They eventually end up at a very strange orphanage in desolate Cambridge Falls, run by an eccentric old wizard named Dr. Stanislaus Pym. They are the only children, not just in the orphanage, but in the whole town.

While exploring their new home, they stumble across a hidden cellar and uncover the Emerald Atlas, an enchanted book (one of three Books of Beginning) that allows them to travel to different points in time through the use of photographs. Unfortunately, they get stuck fifteen years in the past in a much more beautiful version of Cambridge Falls, but at that point the atlas from their time disappears. They then must race the mysterious ‘Countess’ and her army of undead soldiers, as well as a troupe of unruly dwarves, to recover the atlas of that time so that they may return to the present day. They must also battle to save the children of the village from being drowned by the very same Countess.

This fast-paced novel is reminiscent of a Harry Potter adventure, though perhaps not quite as dark as the final books. With an old wizard with bushy white eyebrows to guide and protect them, soulless monsters called Screechers (akin to Harry Potter’s Dementors), and the introduction of the Countess’s ‘master’ - an entity known as the Dire Magnus who cannot take human form but must possess another - there are many parallels to J.K. Rowling’s popular series.

This is the first book of an anticipated trilogy, and one expects that each sibling will play the lead role in turn to uncover the other two Books of Beginning (in this story it is the eldest, Kate, who is the chosen one able to access the atlas’s full power). There are lots of elements of fantasy woven throughout and good character development, but also much violence which might not be suitable for all readers.  If you are OK with the violence, the excitement, suspense, and adventure will keep readers of all ages (not just the 8-12 year olds for whom it is intended) engaged and hungry to read on.

Highly Recommended: 4 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Trish Chatterley

Trish is a Public Services Librarian for the John W. Scott Health Sciences Library at the University of Alberta. In her free time she enjoys dancing, gardening, and reading books of all types.