Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Emerald Atlas

The Emerald Atlas
Publication date: April 5, 2011

My review:

Kate was only four years old on the Christmas Eve that she, her two year old brother Michael and baby sister Emma were separated from their parents and sent to an orphanage. Kate has vague memories of that night but what she does remember is that her mother said they'd be together again and that she loved them. Kate also remembers the promise she gave to her mother to keep her brother and sister safe. Now ten years later after going from orphanage to orphanage, the siblings find themselves sent off to Cambridge Falls and the orphanage of Doctor Stanislaus Pym. It is here that they find out the truth about themselves and their parents' disappearance, a mysterious prophecy, and a powerful atlas that someone would stop at nothing to possess...

The Emerald Atlas has been compared to Harry Potter and Lemony Snickett's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I'd say the book is more like the latter with a dash of The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe thrown in for good measure. I found it to be an engrossing fantasy with dastardly villains, surprising plot twists, magic, humor, and fun characters. The story has familiar elements but at the same time manages to somehow be original. 

I like that the main characters are pretty ordinary, unlike Lemony Snickett's Baudelaire siblings who are all unusually intelligent for their age. Kate, Michael, and Emma's strengths are their devotion to each other, their belief in their parents' love for them, and their desire to do the right thing. At the beginning of the novel it feels like Kate is the main character but she does share equal space with Michael and Emma later on. Kate is protective and mothering which is understandable given their circumstances. Michael is bookish and he has a mania for dwarves, constantly quoting from a guide to dwarves-a prized possession from his dad. Emma is feisty and has a temper. She is a little sister trying to prove she is grown up too. At times the characters reminded me of the siblings in A Series of Unfortunate Events or even the interaction between Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy from the Chronicles of Narnia. 

The villains are pretty creepy, especially the Countess. The Countess reminded me a little bit of the White Witch of Narnia. She couldn't turn people to stone but she could use her voice to control people and create illusions. She derived pleasure from hurting people, even kids. She was quite a nasty piece of work. Her nemesis, Dr. Pym, is like a mix of Dumbledore and Gandalf. He is equally powerful but in a quiet way. The other main character is Gabriel, a villager who is brave enough to stand up to the Countess when other adults wouldn't. 

Overall, I thought this was a great start to the series. I was originally drawn to the book because of the reviews comparing it to such great fantasy novels but while The Emerald Atlas can't live up to Harry Potter it is still a good story. I particularly enjoyed the fantasy elements like the dwarves and screechers, the time travel, and the mystery surrounding the Atlas.  The author is a screenwriter and perhaps that is why I could easily see this being adapted to film. I would suggest this book to fans of MG and YA fantasy or adventure. 

Readalikes: A Series of Unfortunate Events series by Lemony Snickett, Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

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