Monday 6 June 2011

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

This book was pretty magical.

I picked it up not really knowing what to expect, except that I liked the cover (yep, I judge books by their covers), and that it was "kinda like Harry Potter" according to my fiance, who'd read about one chapter of it before I stole it off him while we were on holidays. Well, it is "kinda like Harry Potter", in that it involves an old wizard, a trio of kids, magic and a few mythical creatures, but that description could also apply to most children's fantasy novels. With that in mind, I was pleasantly surprised to find such a fun and unique tale.

The Emerald Atlas follows the story of siblings Kate, Michael and Emma, who have been bounced from orphanage to orphanage ever since their parents disappeared 10 years ago. After all hope of adoption is given up, they're shipped off to one last orphanage in the unheard-of Cambridge Falls. They soon discover they're the only three children in the whole village, but things turn even weirder when they find a big green book which, when they place a photo in it, allows them to travel to the time and place it was taken. What follows is one helluva journey, on which the children find new friends, old friends, plenty of enemies and more than a bit of trouble.

Stephens (who, interestingly, has previously written for two of my fave shows, The O.C. and Gilmore Girls) does a wonderful job of constructing the world of Cambridge Falls and its mysterious inhabitants. The trio of siblings are admirable and interesting characters, and both they and the colourful array of secondary characters are well-drawn, forging a tale that is full of heroism, heart and humour. With a whimsical, action-packed plot, the Atlas' 400+ pages were never a struggle to get through. Occasionally I did get frustrated at the way the the narration jumps back and forth between characters, leaving little cliffhangers everywhere, but it definitely made for an effective page-turner.

The first in a trilogy called The Books of Beginning, The Emerald Atlas leaves a few questions hanging that I would've liked answers to sooner rather than later, but overall I was happy with the sense of closure you get for this first chapter, and am eager to read the epic adventures I'm sure the next novel will hold!

Rating: 4/5

Talking Points (Spoiler Alert!)
  • I'm curious about how the Countess fares in the past, and if one of the other books "disappears" by her hand. I have a theory that we might not have seen the last of her! But I could be wrong.
  • I'd obviously like to know more about the Dire Magnus, which Dr. Pym said he'd "explain later" but never did - in this story, at least. I'd also like to know exactly what the prophecy says. Hopefully these things are explained in the next book. I guess I'll just have to wait and see!
  • I adored the relationship between Emma and Gabriel. You gotta love a gentle giant! I hope Gabriel sticks around for the rest of the books - given Emma's attachment to him, I assume he will. 
  • Weirdly, even though the novel is set in America in the present day/15 years ago, I kept picturing it in England in the 1940s (I think because it was reminiscent of all those war-time, children-sent-to-strange-house-in-the-country stories), and had to keep correcting my imagination. 
Eye Candy/Who I "Cast"

Dianna Agron as the girlish, manipulative, magical, maniacal Countess

Karl Urban as the fierce, brave and kind warrior Gabriel

Hailee Steinfeld (who I have a major girl crush on after seeing True Grit - she's fantastic) as the caring and selfless Kate

Super 8's Joel Courtney as intelligent and sensitive Michael (plus glasses, of course!)

Mara Wilson, circa 1998, as the spunky, fearless Emma

Michael Gambon as crafty wizard Dr Pym, not (just) because he'd Dumbledore, but because he's awesome and I love him
Fine Print
Genre: Children/Fantasy
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: April 2011
Get It: Book Depository


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. (Didn’t mean to post yet as I was still typing. Sorry, lol)

    I was just searching for books online, and this book caught my eye. After reading the description and watching the trailer, I said to myself "I must read this book".. Looks like you beat me to it :D. Glad you enjoyed it, and I can’t wait to get my own copy and read it myself.

    P.S. – happy to hear you enjoyed your trip to the USA, and good to hear your back safe in Oz!

    -Alisa @ the Novel Nook

  3. Thanks Alisa! I hope you enjoy it, too, looking forward to reading your thoughts :)

  4. The book looks absolutely magically and I haven't even read it. Sounds great and the castings look good too.

    Found your blog on YA Booklover Blog from the post of Booklover Discovers and glad i stopped by.

  5. Thanks for stopping by and the lovely comment, Young1! :)

  6. Aaah, I love and hate it when authors use the little cliffhangers across chapters to get you to keep reading. It's so frustrating...but so effective :P

  7. So true! It makes them hard to put down, that's for sure!

  8. Hi Belle ;)

    I'm in Chapter 14 now and I have to say this book is fantastic! There are a lot of scenes which caught me off guard like meeting the "past" Dr. Pym inside the prison.. LOL :D

    Anyway, I do agree with you on your cast list. Diana Argon does fit the Countess' physical description. But I have to say whenever I think of Emma, Maisie Williams (from Game of Thrones) pops into my head. And AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain) seems to fit Kate (in my opinion)..

  9. Oh, glad you're enjoying it! I haven't seen Game of Thrones bu AnnaSophia Robb would be a great Kate :) Let me know what you think of the rest of the book!

  10. Do you think this book is good for an 8yr olds comprehension? It sounds like a very interesting book. I just might have to read this as well.

  11. Hi Isabella, it might be a bit much for an eight-year-old - I would say it's for 10 year olds and up, probably. It's quite a hefty book!