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The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas (2011)

by John Stephens

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Books of Beginning (1)

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Description: Kate, Michael, and Emma have been in one orphanage after another for the last ten years, passed along like lost baggage.

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.

Until now.

Before long, Kate, Michael, and Emma are on a journey to dangerous and secret corners of the world...a journey of allies and enemies, of magic and mayhem. And—if an ancient prophesy is correct—what they do can change history, and it is up to them to set things right.

Thoughts: This book never managed to really grab me. Mostly, I think, because it doesn't ever manage to really differentiate itself from so much of children's fiction these days: there are orphans, they are mistreated by people who should take care of them, they go on a journey and find out that their lives are not what they expected. It's not that it's bad... it's just getting a little stale for me. I almost crave a magical fantasy for tweens and teens that features a kid who has wonderful, loving parents YET still gets an adventure. Seems like ever since Cinderella, the only story people can write is kids in terrible, parentless and loveless situations.

Anyway, other than that the book is fine. The kids are mostly likeable. The writing style is fine. The plot is a little fiddly in a couple places, but still fundamentally fine. The set up for the other books in the series is quite clear and easy to follow.

What really confuses me, however, is that this was an Amazon Best Book of the month and it's being compared to His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Now, that's one of my favorite series and this doesn't come close. And I don't get the hype. I wouldn't rule out reading the sequels but they aren't rushing to the top of my TBR list.

Maybe I'm just too old for this one. Or too saturated in this kind of teen lit. I don't know. I just know that I'm pretty much left feeling this one was fine, nothing more.

http://www.librarything.com/topic/134084#3317926 ( )
  leahbird | Jan 13, 2015 |
Kate, Michael and Emma have a special destiny and when their young lives become imperiled they are sent away to an orphanage unknowing what the future holds for them. 10 years later after having being sent from orphanage to orphanage, they arrive in Cambridge Falls and their adventures begin.

Kate has a unique connection to the "Emerald Atlas" which allows her to time travel. The children use this special ability to go back in time to save a town and its people.

Magic, time traveling, dwarfs, hidden tunnels and more made this book a thoroughly entertaining experience and had me running to the bookstore for the next in the series. ( )
  cyderry | Dec 8, 2014 |
The first in a series of 3 about the Books of the Beginning, in which orphans Kate, Michael and Emma must travel back in time using the Atlas, to save these books from forces of evil, the Countess and Dire Magnus.
  lrubin75 | Dec 7, 2014 |
Time-travel, magic, orphans, witches, and more, characterize John Stephens’ Emerald Atlas, first in his Book of Beginnings series. Three maybe-orphans struggle to solve the shifting mystery of their past, aided by characters whose loyalties prove hard to guess, and hindered by evil mistresses of dark orphanages, and even more evil witches. A wounded world carries echoes of Narnia’s winter; mysterious clues might remind you of the Mysterious Benedict Society; there are hints of Lemony Snicket in the orphans’ repeated misfortunes; and exciting battles might bring Lord of the Rings to mind. But the whole is put together with a nicely new, intriguing plot. The characters are fun. Big sister’s seriousness is nicely balanced by her studious brother and brave youngest sibling. The recent past is a mystery slowly revealing its secrets. And the more distant past is an alluringly charming place with zany dwarves, mysterious wizard, and tortuous tricks of time.

The Emerald Atlas is a fast, exciting read, with nicely balanced shades of dark and light. Scary scenes are lightened by zany humor. Evil characters meet humorous counterparts. And the blend of magic and time-travel is given a pleasing logic all its own that truly holds together, making this a series I’m eager to follow further. Highly recommended.

Disclosure: My husband continues to have impeccable taste when it comes to choosing books for me to read on planes! ( )
  SheilaDeeth | Jun 12, 2014 |
Ahh I love summer! I've heard of this book when it first came out and decided that if I ever found it cheap, I'd look into it. Well, few months ago I went to a library book sale and low and behold, there it was for fifty cents. Now that I have some time on my hands, I was able to pick it up and read through it.

The Emerald Atlas is about three kids: Kate who's the oldest and sworn to protect her siblings, Michael, obsessed with dwarves, and Emma, a fiery tempered eleven-year-old who's won all twenty-three fights she's gotten into with older kids at orphanages. These three siblings accidentally get caught up in a battle against evil as they try to locate the Atlas before an evil witch gains control of it and its time traveling magic.

The story plot was a fresh view of the Other World/Magic Book fantasy plot. Still set in the "real" world, yet mostly fifteen years in the past, with magic creatures but was not too overbearing. It took the best of time travel, orphaned kids, prophecies, and the magic world and lumped them all together. (It also helps that I'm a HUGE time travel fan.) At first I wasn't so sure I'd get into the book, but the author left enough unanswered questions that I cared about knowing in order to keep me hooked on finishing.

On to characters: I will admit, the characters felt very flat for a large portion of the book and still are not fully rounded yet. But: the characters DID round more and more until I was able to connect with them easier and appreciate them more. I must say, though, that one character in particular was fantastically done and the relationship between him and Emma was superb, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

John Stephens' writing style, overall, was pretty smooth, although I do have a few points to make out. For about the first half of the book, it seemed as if the humor was forced. Miss Sallow was one particular instant, with her making fun of the "kings and queens of France." I wasn't quite sure WHY she was so against the kids, and why she always said they were acting like royalty. The reason for her quips didn't make sense and never really did. Also Emma's insults at Michael didn't always fit either, as though the author wanted to build this uneasy brother-sister rivalry between them to use later in the story, but was a little too excited and put in some unnecessary insults that didn't make any sense. Other points were that Stephens would sometimes structure his sentences with run-ons that were strung together with "and,' yet other times he would leave "and" completely out in a long list. He also broke the "Show Don't Tell" Rule several times by explaining what certain characters said or did and not having the dialogue to back it up. Other than these picky observations, the story flowed smoothly along the page and were not overtly distracting to the reader. In fact, his style kept such a hold on me in some parts, it was all I could do not to let my eyes skip down the page to see what happened next.

One specific element I loved that was woven through this story was that of the "Admirable Character" or what have you. That one character your protagonists look up to in their hour of need. I've seen these characters before in books, and I'm not sure if they're actually a literary device or authors feel that they just need a character in order to relieve stress from the reader and protagonists. Usually, this character displays these qualities: he's usually a man, he's older than the protagonists, stronger, and wiser, he's sometimes a fatherly figure, and he can't be in the exact same sticky situation as the protagonists...(and for some bizarre, unexplainable reason, he's usually very good looking. ???)

^^This character in the Emerald Atlas is Gabriel (and yes, the book actually says he's good looking, okay?). John Stephens development of this character and the relationship he had with eleven-year-old Emma was, like I said, superb. It wasn't over the top, and he wasn't too distant either, yet, as the reader who (like any good reader should) gets into the protagonists' heads and suffers through the same emotions as they do, you find you need *that* character, just like your protagonist does. Stephens does a great job here, and it's a skill I want to learn to better my own writing.

This book was a fun and entertaining read. Next time I see the second book, I will be sure to grab it!

Things to watch out for:

Romance: a witch killed her husband in a quest for power, then later jokes she would "have an affair" with another man then kill him too
Language: L*-8, "hellish"-1, "devil"-1, "bloody/bleeding"-23 (most by one character who is in about a third of the book), bloody h*-5, "'ells bells", D-1
Violence: evil creatures are sliced in half, one is decapitated, poison arrows are shot through a little girl but she doesn't die, wolf's skull is shattered, fist fights between siblings, kids try to hang one boy but are stopped, parents are separated from their kids for two years and are implied some are hurt or killed in trying to rescue them, a boat on the water is a place of death, punishment, and torture, creature rips its own wings off, about sixty total lives of children are at stake
Drugs: wizard smokes a pipe, dwarf king gets drunk with ale, girl is fed whiskey to warm her body
Other: use of magic, wizards, witches, betrayal, a "witch doctor" character and someone makes a joke about her owning another's soul, although not serious, a villain takes possession of another's body, sacrifice

Rated 5th grade and up
417 pages ( )
  Jenneth | Jun 4, 2014 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Stephensprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dale, JimNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foster, JonCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375868704, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, April 2011: With a timeless writing style that invokes thoughts of children’s fantasy classics such as Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, author John Stephens weaves a gripping tale of mystery and magic into The Emerald Atlas. His enchanting prose and spot-on wit can only be described as both hip (Stephens was previously the executive producer of Gossip Girls) and Dickensian, a delightful combination that will both engage young readers with its relatable nature and fascinate them with its aberrant charm. If Stephens's comic finesse and archetypal writing style aren’t enough to engage young readers, they will no doubt be captivated by the plot. Stephens's complex formula for time travel and fascinating explanation for the disappearance of the magical realm is so convincing that readers might begin to believe that there is, in fact, far more to the world than meets the eye. Thought-provoking and enchanting, The Emerald Atlas has the makings of a children’s classic. --Jacqueline Segall

Amazon-Exclusive Q&A with Author John Stephens
John StephensAmazon: You started off in television, co-producing and writing for The Gilmore Girls and The O.C., and then moved on to be the executive producer (and occasional writer and director) for Gossip Girls. After establishing yourself in Hollywood, what inspired you to change your course and write a children's book trilogy?

John: Honestly, sometimes I ask myself that question in the reverse. How did I ever end up in Hollywood? The truth is that writing novels was my first ambition, and given my druthers when I finished grad school, I probably would’ve gone off and just written books. The only problem was that at the time I was pretty bad at it. I really kinda stunk. As it turned out, I needed another decade of learning the craft before I was ready to write a novel. And, fortunately, writing for Hollywood turns out to be a great training ground. You learn how to work on a schedule, tell a satisfying story, build character, construct scenes, you develop a feel for dramatic momentum…and you get to tool around the Warner Bros lot on a golf cart, which is kind of awesome. In fact, writing and producing television was so much fun I kind of forgot about writing books for a while. That is, till the day I read The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman and realized that all I wanted to do was write children’s fantasy novels. And luckily by then I had the skills to pull it off without embarrassing myself.

Though I do still miss cruising around the lot on golf carts.

Amazon: The whole time I was reading The Emerald Atlas, I kept thinking what a great movie it would make. Are there any plans for a film version?

John: I hope so! Wouldn’t that be awesome? Unfortunately, at present, if people are making plans, they haven’t told me about them.

Amazon: I loved the characters of Kate, Emma, and Michael. They were all so relatable. I felt as if they were kids I had met before. Were your three young heroes inspired by anyone in your life or from your childhood?

John: Kate not so much (though she does share a name with my younger sister). Her closest inspiration came from a character in the movie Not One Less by Zyang Yimou, where this young girl is put in charge of a schoolhouse in rural China, and the teacher tells her that she’ll be paid if all the children are there when he returns. Well, of course one of the kids, this little rapscallion, runs away, and she has to track him down to this big city. And the job of finding this kid in this huge city is OVERWHELMING and yet this girl is unbelievably tenacious. I just loved that sense of incredible strength in someone so young.

Emma is partly inspired from a friend of mine, a writer I worked with who can be incredibly combative and feisty, but also has an enormous heart. I love that combination of fury and vulnerability.

Michael, in many ways, was based on me. We’re both the middle brother of two sisters, studious, wear glasses, think dwarves are awesome, and have a need to document our worlds. However, like all characters, he grew away from me and became much braver and more resourceful than I could ever hope to be.

Amazon: The fantasy world in The Emerald Atlas is described in such detail that it really comes to life in the mind of the reader. What was your inspiration for the world that Kate, Emma, and Michael happen upon?

John: The inspiration was the Adirondacks of upstate New York. A few years ago, I spent a lot of time up near Lake Placid and I found the area to be really magical and just imbued with history, in particular, a romantic, turn-of-the-century, Edith Wharton-type of history that I found very appealing. British fantasy writers are surrounded by buildings, streets, and graveyards that are centuries old. Fantasy and magic seems to cling to those places. It’s a little bit harder to find that in the States, but I felt the Adirondacks had that quality in spades, as well as being near the old stomping grounds of Washington Irving, who sort of began the tradition of American fantasy I was trying to nod towards.

Amazon: You have a distinctly individual voice and plotline in The Emerald Atlas, but your writing style does invoke thoughts of some children’s fantasy classics. The beginning portion of The Emerald Atlas reminded me a little bit of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, while the main body of your work read more similarly to C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia and Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and the action scenes reminded me most of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Which writers would you say inspired you most as an author?

John: First off, to say that my book reminds you of those writers is a HUGE compliment, so thank you. I feel very indebted to particular writers for very specific things. Among the ones you mention…from Pullman, I love the authority of his other worlds. He believes in Lyra’s world completely and he makes you believe in it. Also, his characters live at the edges of their feelings, which makes reading the books enormously exciting. From Lewis, at his best, he can convey a true sense of magic to readers, especially young readers. And though I don’t love all his books, his prose is always great. I admire so much about J.K. Rowling’s books but just to pick a couple things, she has a Dickensian affection for side characters that I also have. Also, she shares with Roald Dahl, one of my other literary heroes, a taste for the comic grotesque. I’m deeply indebted to Edith Nesbit, most particularly for her Bastable books. I love her humor, her lightness of touch and above all the interaction of her children. And finally, I’d just say Dickens for so many things, but mostly because he proved again and again that a funny book can also be moving.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:25:49 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Kate, Michael, and Emma have passed from one orphanage to another in the ten years since their parents disappeared to protect them, but now they learn that they have special powers, a prophesied quest to find a magical book, and a fearsome enemy.

» see all 6 descriptions

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