Book Review, Fantasy, John Stephens, Young Adult

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Final Verdict: 3.75 out of 4.0

YTD: 24


Plot/Story:
3 – Plot/Story is interesting & believable.

The Emerald Atlas is Book One in a new and exciting series by John Stephens, called The Books of Beginning.  This is where Lord of the Rings meets Harry Potter – a realistic everyday world, where orphaned siblings are suddenly thrust into a coexisting world of magic and magical beings.  Kate, Michael, and Emma are the “P” children.  They were swept away from their parents by a mysterious man when young and, for ten years, spent their lives being shuffled around from orphanage to orphanage.  When the trio is kicked out of the “Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Orphans,” they are sent to Cambridge Falls, a village whose sole orphanage is run by the strange and allusive Dr. Stanislaus Pym, his housekeeper Miss Sallow, and the servant-of-sorts, Abraham.  Immediately, the children are off exploring the expansive home and their curiosity soon leads to trouble – the kids discover a large green book with mysterious powers, which has them whipping back and forth through time, eventually into the hands of the evil Countess, whom they – with the help of a magician, dwarfs, giants, and townsfolk, must defeat, or be doomed forever.  Along the way, the kids learn more about each other, themselves, their long lost parents, and their own important, cosmic destinies.   


Characterization:
4 – Characters extraordinarily developed.

As a writer for various television series’, such as Gilmore Girls and The O.C., Stephens clearly has experience writing and developing characters, young and old.  That talent and experience shine through in The Emerald Atlas.  The three siblings are interesting to watch because they are each unique and independent, but also function together as a family unit.  Sibling rivalry rears its ugly head on more than one occasion, at times leading one or another of the characters into dubious territory.  Kate, the older sister, feels responsible for her younger siblings, and her actions are largely based on the need to protect them.  Michael, the middle child, is intelligent, bookish, and, well, a know-it-all.  This can be exasperating, but also comes in handy (sometimes reading books really can save your life!).  Emma, the youngest, is clearly the youngest – she is bold, precocious, and loves attention.  She also looks up to her brother and sister, modeling her own behavior after them, though she would rather die than admit this.  Watching the three interact with each other, as well as with other characters (particularly when they are separated from one another) is interesting and allows room for character growth and development, which readers and fans of this book can only hope is taken advantage of in later installments.  The secondary and tertiary characters, too, are interesting – from Gabriel the giant and Wallace the dwarf, to the Countess and the nameless monsters who serve her, good and bad characters are given equal time and attention, which makes the overall conflict stimulating and workable. 


Prose/Style:

 4– Extraordinary Prose/Style, enhancing the Story.

Another clear talent for Stephens is his ability to construct and deliver a story in an effective way.  The prose is highly attractive – it is challenging and complex, more so than others which this book might be compared to (A Series of Unfortunate Events or Percy Jackson and the Olympians, for instance).  Though this book will likely be marketed to a similar audience, it is equally attractive to more experienced readers.  The dialogue and description are well developed as well.  There were some grammatical issues, but my copy of the book is an Advanced Reader’s Copy, so it is likely these will (or have) disappeared in the final stages of editing, and they do not detract from the overall effectiveness of the delivery.   While the story is interesting and exciting, it is almost too fast-paced and large in scope.  So much is covered in this first book, it is hard at times to catch one’s breath.  Also, though plenty of time is spent with each of the three children (singly and together), the creative range and pace at times do a disservice to their deeper story and growth.  Despite this one minor complaint, the plot is solid, engaging, and incredibly interesting, and the prose is appropriate to the story itself and helps to progress it without any choppiness or confusion, so it is a solid effort overall.  


Additional Elements: Setting, Symbols/Motifs, Resolution, etc.
4 – Additional elements are present and cohesive to the Story.

While this is a great fantasy novel, it is more as well.  The book pays homage to many of the greatest fantasy novels of all time, whether subtly or overtly.  At times, I was reminded of The Chronicles of Narnia, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Percy Jackson, The Kane Chronicles, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and even The Dark is Rising.  Now, whether or not the author actually ever read any of these books (it would be hard to imagine a genre author not being intimately familiar with his predecessors), their concepts are certainly there – but in a way which makes it impossible to claim any simple re-working of old plots.  Some of the best elements of each – such as family, the nature and purpose of magic, responsibility, growth and discovery, and coming-of-age, are present here and work together intricately and seamlessly.  I also thoroughly enjoyed the mystery aspect of the book (as a Poe fan, the “Poe House” and another Poe reference in Dr. Pym make me tingle), something not always at the forefront of fantasy novels – but which add another level of intrigue here.  The sibling rivalry is also something present in a few of The Emerald Atlas’s predecessors, but Stephens does such a remarkable job of writing it, one wonders if he has a background in child psychology (or perhaps it’s simply all that screenwriting experience).  These additional elements, done so well, add layers of complexity and interest to the traditional fantasy plot and make for one fantastic read. 

Suggested Reading for:
Age Level: Young Adult +

Interest: Fantasy, Magic, Family

 

 

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