Merry Wanderer of the Night  + [YA]

Review: The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

I first heard about The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens from Becky, who blogs at Escapism through Books. She was talking about it, and wrote a really stellar review of the book (read it, you know you want to!) . I left a comment mentioning that I thought it sounded like a great book, and being the wonderful person Becky is, she sent me her copy!! (Thanks Becky. You are made of awesome!)

The book starts out as so many of these intense fantasy series do — It has children (girl, boy, girl) mysteriously/suspiciously missing parents, a prophecy (of sorts) and the understanding that these seemingly unimportant, average orphans are going to change the fate of the world. Everyone has read a book like this recently. I can almost guarantee it. Sure, the number of children, their gender, why/how the parents went missing and the specifics of the prophecy all change, but the basic storyline is the same. When the book started out, following this pattern, I admit that I groaned a little bit. But then, the story moved on and became something completely wonderful. The basic outline laid out for us, Stephens then delves into his own specific mysteries and magics and I was swept away.

Kate has an overdeveloped sense of responsibility for her younger siblings. Her parent's went missing when she was four years old, and right before being taken from them, her mother made her promise that she would keep her siblings safe. That's a lot of pressure to put on a four year old, and Kate feels it at times, but she never tries to avoid it. The children have an amazingly strong bond, and they are deeply loyal to each other. Kate is also the most sure that her parents are not dead, because just after her mother made Kate promise to keep her siblings safe, she also promised Kate that they would all be together again someday.

Michael is more of a dreamer. He's learned to cope with the increasingly horrible conditions in the various orphanages they are forced to live in by imagining hidden and secret worlds, and he is especially fascinated by dwarfs. Emma, the youngest is fierce and tough, having learned early on that in this life, being weak, or unwilling to fight is dangerous and that only the strong survive in these places.

When the children are kicked out of yet another orphanage, they are sent to a mysterious home, where they are the only orphans in the 'orphanage', the orphanage director is absent and nothing 'quite' adds up. One day, while exploring the house, they stumble across a room that they assume is the owner's study and they find a green book. They assume it's just an old photo album, but when Michael places an old picture on one of the pages, the world as they know it will change for ever, and they are thrust into the middle of a conflict that's been brewing for centuries.

I loved the development of this story. Each of the characters was given their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and we watched as all of their unique abilities developed, changed, and led to the growth of the characters. Each of the secondary and side characters was also given a distinct personality. I was actually surprised at how uniquely formed each and every character and situation was, given the rather formulaic pattern used to set the initial stage for the story.

The magic in this book was also wonderfully developed and explained. The children have no idea that the world of magic exists, so we get to learn everything as the children do. I've always loved being able to learn right along with the main characters. It's just an extra way of becoming involved in the book, because we are sharing an experience! And when you get to share a life changing experience with your characters, when you learn it as they do, and they keep no secrets from the reader, it offers the reader an extra connection to both the character(s) and the story.

I'm a little bit sad right now, because I know that my review is not doing this book justice. I read the book a while ago, and I kept putting off writing the review, because every time I tried, I was painfully aware that no matter what I said, I wasn't really going to be able to articulate how this book made me feel. So, instead I'm going to finish by saying that I really enjoyed the story, and it's one that I think will have a very wide level of appeal. It's a book that can be read and enjoyed by both the younger, MG set, and the older groups, YA and up. I believe that this is a series that is going to have a lot of cross-over appeal and will be enjoyed by just about everyone who gives it a chance.

Now, if only I didn't have to wait so long for the sequel!