Saturday, May 28, 2011

REVIEW: The Emerald Atlas (Book One of The Books of Beginning Series)

Stephens, J.  (2011).  The Emerald Atlas.  New York:  Alfred A. Knopf.

417 pages.

Appetizer:  When Kate was four-years-old, her mother woke her to inform her that she had to watch over her baby brother and sister, Michael and Emma.  That night her parents disappeared with a stranger and have never returned.

Ten years later, Kate and her siblings (now eleven and twelve-years-old) are shuffled from orphanage to worse orphanage, asserting that their parents are still out there, somewhere.  When one last adoptive parent is deemed unacceptable by the siblings, they are sent to one final orphanage in upstate New York, in a town called Cambridge Falls.  It doesn't take them long to realize there's something strange about their new home.  First, they're not only the only children at the orphanage, but they're the only children in the town.

As they explore their new home, the siblings find a strange room, and in it a strange book.  A photo album that, when a photo is placed upon it, sends the children to the time and place the photo was taken. The siblings learn that Cambridge Falls has a dark past, an evil Countess/witch who is holding the town hostage as she searches for something.  Realizing the danger, the siblings try to escape to their own time, but accidentally leave Michael behind.  Kate, who had promised to keep him and Emma safe, knows that she must rescue her brother and find a way to save the town.

Some reviewers have compared The Emerald Atlas to Harry Potter.  From the first few pages, I definitely picked up on an HP vibe.  But instead of Harry being left on a stoop of his family members, Kate's parents are the one leaving her and her siblings.  Instead of McGonagall and Dumbledore having a conversation about how extraordinary he is over a sleeping baby Harry, a seemingly wise, old shadowy man and her parents have a conversation about the the children's destiny outside of Kate's bedroom.  And instead of pronouncing Tomato as tomato, I will now be pronouncing it toMAto.

Also, the Dr. Pym character feeeeeels eerily similar to Dumbledore, knowing impossible things and being ridiculously wise.  (What is it about having god-like old people in children's literature?  Sure, I get that it's an archetype and I'm all for respecting elders, but sometimes Granny Relda from the Grimm Sisters series, Dumbledore and this Dr. Pym seem more than human.)

Focus brain.

There's also a friendly giant in The Emerald Atlas who lives in a cabin.  Although, he's nothing compared to Hagrid.

But that's enough of comparison talk.  The Emerald Atlas does hold its own as being an engaging story.  There were a lot of great suspenseful moment, like when the siblings were fleeing from starved wolves.  I really loved Emma.  She was tough and made a lot of humorous comments.  Here's one from when the siblings learn about some of the Countess's henchmen, the Screechers:
"Morum cadi, the deathless warriors,"  the Countess said.  "Though I admit Screecher is a fitting name.  They were men, hundreds of years ago.  But they traded their souls for power and eternal life.  Which they were granted, of a sort."   
"They're not so bad," Emma said.  "Mostly smell is all." (p. 104)
And as far as villains go, the Countess is pretty awesome as well.  She's twisted and funny.  Kind of like Sue Sylvester from Glee, but less vicious.  One of my favorite quotations from her was:
"When I married the Count, everyone said he had no more than six months to live.  I don't need to tell you I didn't plan on allowing him even that long.  But wasn't it just like the old mule to creak on for nearly a year?  Honestly, he must have survived a half dozen attempts to poison him.  Never marry a finicky eater, my dears.  Nothing but trouble." (p. 100)
I'm not certain The Emerald Atlas deserves all of the hype it is receiving.  But it is definitely an entertaining fantasy to keep in mind as a book recommendation.

Dinner Conversation:

"The girl was shaken awake.  Her mother was leaning over her.
"Kate"--her voice was low and urgent--"listen very closely.  I need you to do something for me.  I need you to keep your brother and sister safe.  Do you understand?  I need you to keep Michael and Emma safe."  (p. 1)

"The girl's heart was hammering in her chest, and she had opened her mouth to ask what was happening when a man appeared in the doorway.  The light was behind him, so Kate couldn't see his face, but he was tall and thin and waring a long overcoat and what looked like a very rumpled hat.
"It's time," he said.
His voice and that image--the tall man silhouetted in the doorway--would haunt Kate for years, as it was the last time she saw her mother, the last time her family was together.  Then the man said something Kate couldn't hear, and it was as if a heavy curtain was drawn around her mind, obliterating the man in the doorway, the light, her mother, everything."  (pp. 2-3)

"What...happened?" Emma asked.  "Where are we?""
"I can answer that."  Michael's face was flushed with excitement, his words tumbling all over themselves.  "We're in Abraham's picture!  Well, not in the actual picture itself; that would be ridiculous"--he allowed himself a quick chuckle--"we've been transported to the time and place the photo was taken."
Emma stared at him.  "Huh?"
Don't you see?  It's magic!  It has to be!"
"There's no such thing!"
"Really?  Then how'd we get here?"
Emma looked about and, seeing no clear way to argue, wisely changed the subject.  "So where are we then?" (p. 48)

"I do not enjoy playing the grump!  But I must cure you of your excessive love of me!"  The Countess picked up the doll that Annie had dropped and smoothed his patchy hair.  "So, the word has already been sent to your men.  They'll find me what I'm looking for, or beginning this Sunday--I do hate Sundays, they're so dull--beginning this Sunday, your town will lose a child each week I have to wait."  (pp. 60-61)

""But I would like to give you a word of warning."  He leaned forward in his chair.  "There are places in this world that are different from all others.  Almost like separate countries.  A forest here, an island there, part of a city--"
"A mountain range," Kate said.
"Yes," Dr. Pym said.  "Sometimes a whole mountain range.  Cambridge Falls and all that surrounds it is such a place.  Now, the town itself is quite safe.  But do not go deeper into the mountains.  There are dangers there you cannot possibly imagine."  (pp 73-74)

Tasty Rating:  !!!

1 comment:

  1. We just got this book at it looks incredible. Wonderful review! I'm glad you liked it so much, that means the book is probably as incredible as it looks!



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