The Emerald Atlas


John Stephens


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 26, 2011

he Emerald Atlas is a Young Adult story about three orphaned siblings: Emma, Michael and Kate. Their mother and father mysteriously abandoned them on a past Christmas Eve. Because the children don't want to be split up, and because no one will adopt all three of them, Emma, Michael and Kate remain trapped in various dreary institutions. The three children are moved from orphanage to orphanage, each one bleaker than the last. Finally, they are sent to a mysterious orphanage in an isolated town called Cambridge Falls in upstate New York. However, this last orphanage turns out to be a giant old mansion with no other children in it. It is run by the often-absent Dr Pym, who may be more than he seems. The children explore the old building and discover a hidden library. An astonishing thing happens when Michael places a polaroid photograph in a book - the children find themselves transported into another time. Soon they encounter a beautiful but sinister countess...

Most of this book is an enjoyable read. I like the adventures of Kate, Michael and Emma - there are narrow escapes and scary monsters. There is a dangerous underground journey with monsters in hot pursuit. There is magic, and unexpected aid from characters who turn into friends. There are magical places and other children in dire peril who need to be rescued. The pace of the story telling is fast and it is well told.

I like the description of the three children in this book. Kate is the oldest, and so feels responsible for her younger brother and sister. Though she is only fourteen years old Kate has to act mature to keep the other two out of trouble. Michael enjoys books, especially books about Dwarves - he has studied every book he can find on the subject and is convinced that they are not a mythical race. Emma is the youngest but toughest. Each of the three are confronted with challenges and dangerous adventures, and respond in with courage and determination.

I wish the Countess had been given a more detailed backstory. She makes a reference to living in czarist Russia, so clearly magic must be keeping her alive and young - but how did she get that magic? Why is she so evil? What is her goal? Unfortunately, the reader doesn't get any insight into what drives the Countess; though perhaps I am hoping for too much from a book targeted at a younger audience.

I did not know when I picked this book up that it was the first book of a trilogy, and the second book is not even written yet. The series is called the Books of the Beginning. If this is successful, maybe there will be a subsequent Books of the Ending series.


Don't read further if you haven't read The Emerald Atlas yet!

The ending of the book was a lot weaker than the rest of the story. The Countess decides to betray the Ultimate Bad Boss (a character that we barely meet), but this seems inconsistent with what has happened so far. Why even bring in the Bad Boss at the end of the story, his existence seems like a last minute addition to the story.

I am concerned about what is going to happen to the plot going forward now that Kate has the ability to move between time and space. With a power like that, Kate can go whenever and where-ever she likes. As soon as danger develops, Kate can just zip back in time to prevent trouble developing in the first place. Why doesn't Kate immediately go back to the time before her parents abandon the children and ask them for an explanation? How will Stephens write a credible story when Kate has such tremendous powers? Because this is a trilogy called the Books of Beginnings, presumably there will be two more books - one for Michael and one for Emma. I am just guessing, but will they be the Sapphire and Ruby Atlases? If Kate's Emerald Atlas gives her the power to move through time and space, what other power can the remaining two books provide? Will they allow transformation of matter? Ability to control people's will? The power of life and death? I'll have to see what Stephens dreams up.