The Emerald Atlas
by John Stephens
Random House Children's Books
This book has a well-deserved reputation as an instant children's classic, and it's easy to see why. The three children, shuffled from orphanage to orphanage finally come under the care of the mysterious Mr. Pym. There are quite a number of comparisons one could make: Harry Potter, The Series of Unfortunate Events, Narnia, Lord of the Rings. So many of the same elements are here, but recombined in a really fresh and wonderful way.
Kate, Michael and Emma's adventure begins when their parents take off, so that they are effectively orphans. This is true in nearly any middle-grade novel. With the adults out of the picture, Kate takes the lead with their small family. Michael is the typical quiet, dreamy middle-child. He has a fascination with dwarves, which plays out in an incredibly satisfying fashion. I loved the dwarves. They were so perfectly Tolkienish - slightly grumpy, fond of breakfast at all hours, proud of their glorious beards.
I also really enjoyed the deliciously timey-wimey elements of the story. The legendary Emerald Atlas that falls into the children's possession allows them to time-travel. They travel forward and back, planting key pieces of information in the past for their future companions to give to them at crucial moments creating multiple mind-bending paradoxes. I gave up on trying to track who they were meeting when, and how exactly that played into the timeline (and alternate timelines). Just enjoy the ride, and check out the sequel, The Fire Chronicle, just released this month.
I purchased a copy of this book.