Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens #review

Title: The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning #1)
Author: John Stephens
Publisher: Doubleday

Take everything that you loved about Harry Potter, Narnia and Middle Earth, mix it all together, and The Emerald Atlas will satisfy the dreams of your inner wide-eyed 10-year-old. A wise wizard? Yes. (Okay he does come across a little bumbling at times, and wears tweed, but he’s a wizard nonetheless.) An evil countess who’s really a witch? Yes. Dwarves? Lots of ’em, and all sporting the prerequisite beards and Scottish accents. Oh, don’t forget the hero. And a monster.

Then add a magic book, enough time-travelling to make your head spin, and three orphans who are trying to free a village while keeping a priceless artefact out of the clutches of evil, and you’ve got quite the epic fantasy.

Though it’s been a while since I’ve read children’s fiction, I very soon locked my inner adult in a cupboard and delved into The Emerald Atlas, book one of The Books of Beginning trilogy.

As far as storytelling goes, this is a fairly standard elaboration on the “chosen one” trope, but John Stephens handles it in such a way that it didn’t result in any eye-rolling. Granted, the novel gets off to a bit of a slow start, but what sold it to me was the large cast of support characters.

I’d have liked to have seen some of these get more prominence (or get their story arcs tied up neatly), as with Dena or Granny Peet; the former, unless she gets a reprise, didn’t serve that much purpose.

The setting is difficult to place. At first I thought the novel takes place in Victorian or Edwardian times, but the appearance of a Polaroid camera quickly nixed that idea. For some this might be an issue, but I chose to suspend disbelief and just enjoy the story for what it is: three children out to save the world from a powerful megalomaniac and her creepy minions (and the Secretary is horrible). What I appreciated is that Katherine, Emma and Michael aren’t sugary little kids. They bicker among each other and make mistakes. Yet somehow they make things work, and they have the adventure of a lifetime. Even better, it’s not done yet.

This review appeared in the Pretoria News on Monday, February 4, 2013

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