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The emerald atlas
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  New York Times Review

THE rest of book publishing may be tottering on the brink, but the market for young adult fantasy seems as difficult to destroy as, well, a vampire. Series about children learning to harness otherworldly powers to vanquish cosmic evil - Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight," Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" and, of course, J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter - have a powerful archetypal appeal, with each iteration attracting young readers afresh. What from an adult perspective may seem a crushing sameness - how many orphans must battle how many dragons before the world is saved already? - only speaks to the universality of fantasy. Poised between the powerless dependence of childhood and the frighteningly unmoored freedom of adult life, preteen and teenage readers understandably want books that address their most urgent and open-ended questions: What is my destiny? How can I know the extent, and limit, of my powers? Do the moral choices I make really matter? Fantasy literature provides these anxieties a cosmological stage on which to play out. "The Emerald Atlas," the first in a planned trilogy called the Books of Beginning, was the talk of the Bologna Children's Book Fair last year. Written by John Stephens, a television writer and producer who's worked on "Gossip Girl," "Gilmore Girls" and "The O.C.," "The Emerald Atlas" has a targeted readership between the ages of 8 and 12, but like C. S. Lewis's Narnia epic (which it closely resembles in story, if not style), it can be read aloud by a parent at bedtime or enjoyed independently by an older reader. Also like "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "The Emerald Atlas" features displaced siblings who discover a fantastical alternate world hidden inside their prosaic one. Fourteen-year-old Kate, 12-year-old Michael and 11-year-old Emma have been bounced from one miserable orphanage to the next since their parents' mysterious disappearance 10 years before. When they reach their latest unpromising abode - a dusty, near-empty manor in the upstate New York town of Cambridge Falls - the children stumble upon a strange blank book, which functions as a kind of portal to an alternate reality. The book whisks them back 15 years earlier to a time when Cambridge Falls was the site of a high-stakes battle between a beautiful but malevolent witch named the Countess and a kindly, pipe-smoking wizard, Stanislaus Pym. Gradually the children - sensible Kate, methodical Michael and fiery Emma - realize they have the power to change the course of history and discover their parents' fate. Along the way, there are descents into glittering underground caverns, breathless escapes from black-clad, shrieking beasts known as the morum cadi (shades of Harry Potter's Death Eaters), and a memorably repulsive banquet with a corrupt and gluttonous dwarf king. Stephens spins a tightly paced, engaging yarn, even if his prose can be lurchingly expository (too often, for example, the narrator reminds us of the siblings' fierce devotion to one another, rather than let their actions speak for themselves). "The Emerald Atlas" feels adaptation-ready to a degree that may strike some as cynical. The crosscutting action sequences read like padded script, and the detailed but flat descriptions of characters and scenery could double as memos to the casting and production departments. The end of this installment leaves the ultimate fate of the magic book in suspense, but the destiny of "The Emerald Atlas" is never in doubt: It's in development. Dana Stevens is the film critic for Slate.

  Booklist Review

Following their parents' disappearance, 14-year old Kate and her younger siblings, Emma and Michael, have grown up in a series of orphanages. After moving to the dismal town of Cambridge Falls, the trio discovers a mysterious book. When studious Michael tucks a historic photo into the book, the children are transported back to an earlier time in which the town is held captive by an evil witch. Prophecies, wizards, hidden treasures, an ancient evil, and tantrum-throwing dwarves all make an appearance as Stephens works in a multitude of fantasy tropes. The quest to save the town and its children is fast-paced and engaging, with plenty of action, humor, and secrets propelling the plot. The dialogue occasionally has a choppy flow, but the humor and sibling bickering are right on target. Themes of family and responsibility, while emphasized somewhat purposefully, will easily resonate with young readers. The start of a new series, this satisfying tale wraps up in an intriguing conclusion that dangles unresolved threads for future adventures. Prepare for heavy demand.--Rutan, Lynn Copyright 2010 Booklist

  Kirkus Review

Since being inexplicably plucked from their parents' home, three childrenKate, Michael and Emma, who all ferociously resist the label "orphan"have trickled through a long line of decent to atrocious orphanages. Their adventures truly begin when they're shipped to a crumbling mansion in a childless town somewhere near Lake Champlain. A mysterious book hidden in the home's dilapidated bowels whisks them to the same spot 15 years earlier, where a glamorous witch rules. The reason for the absence of children gruesomely reveals itself, and the trio determines to help with no initial clue to their own prophetic importance.That they have a larger role to play becomes clearer as they realize they have a special relationship with the magic book, the significance of which is revealed bit by bit. In this mystical world of Children with Destiny, readers might cringe at potential similarity to a certain young wizard, but this is entirely different.Each character has such a likable voice that the elaborate story doesn't feel overcomplicated, and though the third-person-omniscient narration focuses on Kate's thoughts, brief forays into the perspectives of her siblings hint that the next two books might focus on them. Supporting characters from a heroic Native American to some very funny dwarves further enliven things. The only gripe readers might initially have is with its length, but by the end, they'll immediately wish it was longer. (Fantasy. 10-14)]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
"A strong . . . new trilogy, invoking just a little Harry Potter and Series of Unfortunate Events along the way."-- Realms of Fantasy <br> <br> Siblings Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.<br> <br> 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.<br> <br> Until now.<br> <br> 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 true--what they do can change history, and it's up to them to set things right.<br> <br> <br> "A new Narnia for the tween set."-- The New York Times <br> <br> "[A] fast-paced, fully imagined fantasy."-- Publishers Weekly <br> <br> "Echoes of other popular fantasy series, from "Harry Potter" to the "Narnia" books, are easily found, but debut author Stephens has created a new and appealing read . . ."-- School Library Journal , Starred Review
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