The Emerald Atlas--John Stephens
January 2011 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.
Yet these unwanted children are more remarkable than they could possibly imagine. Ripped from their parents as babies, they are being protected from a horrible evil of devastating power, an evil they know nothing about.
Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey through time to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.
It is so satisfying to get a good book. A book that you just like. A book you like so well that you just can't help but love. The Emerald Atlas was that book for me. I loved it. It's a sort of Harry Potter meets Narnia meets Series of Unfortunate Events without shamefully ripping from any of the series; it just uses the elements we love best out of them. It does draw on the prophesied destiny of the chosen one(s) trope, but it only felt a little overdone in that sense. The characters keep it from feeling tiresome.
The characters are absolutely fantastic. Stephens captures the sibling dynamic between Kate, Michael, and Emma perfectly. They bicker and fight and get on each other's nerves, but they love each other desperately. Each sibling is unique. Kate is the traditional protective oldest; Michael is the annoying bookworm; Emma is the feisty one. And great characterization is not limited to the core cast; every character is memorable from the quirky wizard Dr. Pym to the slovenly and dwarf king Hamish. Captain Robby and Gabriel are solidly honorable. Each character is a delight to read about.
As an added bonus, the audio book is narrated by Jim Hale, the same guy who narrates the Harry Potter books. He is an excellent reader, but his narration gave the book this weird semi-British, semi-American effect because it takes place in America, but there are dwarves and it's read by a Brit...
The novel is well paced, thought it may take a bit of time up front to get into it. The climax is exciting and the ending satisfying. There is a bit of bad guy monologuing from the Countess and some deus ex machina rescues via Dr. Pym, but as it is a middle grade fantasy, I'll excuse that.
It's just a solid, fun adventure and I'm eager to get my hands on book two.