Review - The Emerald Atlas - John Stephens

The Emerald Atlas (The Books of Beginning #1)
Title: The Emerald Atlas
Series: The Books of Beginning
Author: John Stephens
Genre: Middle-grade, Fantasy, Adventure
Publication: April 14th 2011, Doubleday Children's Books
Pages: Paperback, 417 pages
Source: Library
Rating: 5/5 CUPCAKES!
They were taken from their beds one frozen night, when the world was covered in snow. The silhouette of a tall, thin man has haunted Kate ever since.
Ten years on, Kate, Michael and Emma have grown up in a string of miserable orphanages, and all memories of their parents have faded to a blur. Arriving at Cambridge Falls, the children quickly realise there is something different about this place - and Kate feels sure she has seen the dark, crooked house before.
As they explore, they discover an old, empty leather book. The moment they touch it, an ancient magical prophecy is set irrevocably in motion, and the children are thrown into a dangerous alternate reality of dark enchantments and terrifying monsters. Only they can prevent the terrible event that will ruin Cambridge Falls - and stop the world from falling into complete devastation.

When I first saw this book in the bookshop a few years back, my eleven year old self desperately wanted to read it, but sadly never managed to. However, all that changed when the not-so-eleven-year-old-me found this very book in the library and took it home. I didn't realise that The Emerald Atlas would capture my heart, catapult me into stunning magical world, where there are dwarves, dragons, creatures that will haunt your nightmares, a wicked witch that brings cruelty to new levels, loveable characters and a heart-racing plot. The Emerald Atlas was better than I expected and once I was near finishing this book...I immediately rushed to the library and got the sequel.
The Emerald Atlas is about three siblings, who were taken from their beds in the dead of the night, ten years ago. Growing up in a string of orphanages that grow increasingly worse with every new one they move to, Kate, Michael and Emma are feeling more despondent than ever. However, their whole lives completely shift when another orphanage finally agrees to take them in. From the moment they arrive at the eerie dock where they await to take them to there new home in Cambridge Falls, the children know something is amiss. Arriving in the town, the children notice a few peculiar happenings and upon meeting Dr Pym, the man who runs the supposed orphanage, they realise a tragic secret of the town which they now reside in. As they slowly watch what they thought they knew dissipate before their eyes, Kate, Michael and Emma begin to learn of their prophecy and the important role they have to play in both the real world and the magical world that they weren't aware existed. When they find a mysterious book in a study hidden within the depths of the house, they can't prepare themselves for the emotional journey that they will take. A journey which will reveal the truth about their personal past, and the catastrophic past of Cambridge Falls. But maybe, just maybe, the book that Kate, Michael and Emma hold in their hands, could be powerful enough to rewrite history.
This book was utterly amazing. I haven't read a book in a long time that takes me on such an action-packed journey in awhile. One that makes me feel as if I truly knew the characters. I love middle-grade novels and a lot of the ones I have read recently I just haven't enjoyed...The Emerald Atlas completely blew the other middle-grade books I've read this year out of the water. This book is everything I've ever hoped to read about. It's the kind of adventure that you want to partake in even though it's deadly. Words honestly fail me. This book is perfect. 

The writing is phenomenal. I could picture every single tree, every inconspicuous crevice. I could imagine the deathly Screechers, the unearthly beautiful witch that has is poisonous inside. I could imagine Kate's protective face as she watches over her younger siblings, I could imagine Michael's furrowed brow as he scribbles more important deals of their experience in his notebook, I could imagine Emma's eyes sparkling defiantly as she challenges anyone who dare disrespects her and her siblings. I could imagine the leafy forests that they ran through, the trickling rivers that they jumpeft over. I felt there pain and devastation that they had to endure, I felt their exhilaration and their blinding terror as they were transported back to a dangerous part in history. The Emerald Atlas will have you utterly captivated. 

Another thing that I loved about The Emerald Atlas was how I quickly I flew this book, when I had a chance to read it. I won't lie, it took me quite a few days to read this book, it's a big book and it's been pretty hectic over here, but when I did get time, I couldn't turn the pages fast enough. I also experienced that awesome moment where you're so invested in a book that you literally don't realise how much you're reading and you're not completely conscious that your fingers are turning the pages. You literally become so involved with the story that you're convinced you are truly living the characters' lives and you are completely oblivious to just how much time has passed since you say down to read. It's a magical feeling.

I love the plot. The storyline. I loved the world building. The author perfectly captured the eerie yet beautiful places to which they travelled. There was not a singular dull moment in The Emerald Atlas, there was constant action and suspense, constant new places being explored and constant new, shocking revelations to do with the prophecy that the children are part of. 

I didn't find many faults with The Emerald Atlas, however I did feel like the author introduced too many characters. There were certain points,where I found myself confused as to what part various characters played in the story. There were just too many, but they all had their own personalities, so it was generally not too hard to differentiate one from the other. Just complicated remembering their roles and relationships to the other characters. 

I also felt it was a tad unrealistic in the beginning when Kate's mom had her promise to look after Michael and Emma, as she was only four years old and at four you really don't know the meaning of things. Also the way the dialogue was written between four year old Kate and her mother wasn't very realistic, as no four year old I know speaks like that.

The characters have their unique personalities and I could easily tell who was speaking just by the way their personalities shone through the pages.

First, we have Kate, fourteen years old and the eldest of the three children. Kate missed out on a childhood, as she was constantly on the lookout for her brother and sister. Kate's earliest memory is the one on the night her and her siblings were snatched away, the one where her mom told her to promise to always protect Emma and Michael. And for the last ten years, Kate has kept that promise. I felt so sorry for Kate. Her whole childhood had been robbed from her by looking after them, and you could see how desperately she wanted someone to step in and take care of all three of them.

Kate is a great role model. She is brave, caring, wise and selfless. She always thought of others before her self. I just wish that when something bad happened to her, she would tell the others and not just keep it to herself to keep the others happy and at peace.

We then have quirky twelve year old Michael. The only boy in the family and one who is obsessed with the history of magical dwarves and jotting down facts in his notebooks of things that will help him in the future. I loved Michael's character, he was geeky, sweet and totally a fanboy! He was definitely the character I could relate to the most. He loved reading, obsessed about fictional characters and carried his notebook with facts he had gathered, everywhere with him. He was also like the majority of us book lovers, when he found out that a certain mythical creature was real, he totally fangirled (fanboyed?) whilst collecting annoyed stares from people around him. We can all relate to that!

Last but not least is Emma. The youngest of the three. I loved Emma, she has a strong, defiant disposition due to always being picked on at the orphanages. Yet you can see the fragility she hides underneath. How she, the most out of the three, just longs and yearns for her family to be back together. I adored Emma and by the end of the novel, it honestly felt like she was my little sister. 

The secondary characters were all written in fantastic detail as well. From Dr Pym, the quirky yet powerful wizard that helps the children through their journey. From the dwarves who are slightly deranged but loveable all the same. From Gabriel, the powerful man they meet in the woods that will protect them, especially Emma, through this all.

I adored Gabriel, him and Emma's father/daughter relationship was truly beautiful to watch. How they protected each other, stuck together and helped each other through the tough times. I was so glad that Emma found a father figure, someone who could properly care for her and her siblings. One of the quotes from Gabriel and Emma's dialogue: 
"I do not know what happened with your parents or why they did what they did. But in all the world, I could have wished for no daughter but you."

I loved that scene.

Last but not least, I can't go without mentioning the dialogue between the characters in this book. There were many scenes of raucous banter between the siblings that will have you shaking with laughter, particularly between Emma and Michael. There will definitely be moments of laughter in this book, I can guarantee you that.

I also thought the whole time-travelling aspect was presented well. Things like that generally confuse me, but the author wrote this novel in detail and you won't experience many head-scratches of confusion in this book.

The Emerald Atlas is a captivating debut from a talented author whose books I will definitely be reading more of in the future. A book that deals with keeping hope even during the toughest time and the lengths individuals will go through in order to get their family back together. A book that will take you on a heart-pounding, mind-racing journey, where you will experience every jolt of fear and shock as you take this journey with characters you'll love from the moment you meet them. Descriptive writing, heart-rendering moments and an astounding journey, this book is a keeper.

I give it: 5/5 CUPCAKES!