The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens
Rating: PG; 4 stars
Summary: The P siblings, Kate, Michael, and Emma, have been shunted from orphanage to orphanage for as long as they can remember, each one growing progressively worse. Kate knows they're not orphans, she remembers her mother telling her that she'd be back for them. But that doesn't stop everyone from calling them orphans. After the Edgar Allen Poe Home for Incorrigible Orphans, the P children wonder how any home could possibly be worse. But as it turns out, the quality of the food and beds is the least of their concerns. Upon arriving at their new home, the children discover a magical book and are promptly taken back in time. Although Kate and Emma find their way back with no problem, they soon realize that Michael was left behind. The two sisters journey back in time, hoping to save their brother and return to their own time. But there are many in the past who have different plans for the trio...
Opinions: The Emerald Atlas begins on an enchanting note. The first chapter, to me, was very reminiscent of the beginning of the Harry Potter series, and not in a copy-cat way. It just had the same magical spark. I'm predicting big things for this series. As a whole, the book reminded me of Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia, and A Series of Unfortunate Events, all excellent book series. The book was fast-paced, but still took its time on the details that can make a story like this really shine.
I thought that the P siblings were what really made this book wonderful. They are all uniquely their own person, but each had qualities that nearly any child could relate to: outward toughness with inward uncertainty, bookish, reluctant leader, etc. I found myself relating to Kate because she is the oldest, but also with Michael because of his academic leanings, and also to Emma because of her devotion and loyalty. I think that most readers will find something of themselves in each of the children.
I also felt that the worldbuilding was very well done. Everything fit, from the different races, to the magic system. The “nameless” characters of the townspeople were realistic. The villains and monsters were frightening. In short, this has everything that should make a series like this a big hit.
I gave this story 4 stars because although most of the time the familiarity and comparison to other books was welcome, there were times when I felt like I'd read this before. They were few and far between, but still, originality isn't appreciated today the way it should be (ahem, the 18 million vampire novels out there). The orphan angle has been done a lot, and there isn't much new to do by it. Other than that, this book was truly endearing to me. I rated it PG for some frightening moments. There isn't a lot of one-on-one violence (as opposed to a battle, where although many people may be hurt, you don't hear about it). There's no swearing that I can recall, and seeing as this is a middle-grade book, I'm sure I'd remember if there was some.
In short, this is an excellent book. I recommend it to anyone who likes Harry Potter, Lemony Snickett, or the Chronicles of Narnia. I'm waiting eagerly for the second installment of the series.