Title: The Emerald Atlas
Series: Books of Beginning (book 1)
Author: John Stephens
Narrator: Jim Dale
ISBN: 9780307879769
CDs/Discs: 10 discs, 11 hours 30 minutes
Pages: 432 pages
Publisher/Date: Random House, Inc., Listening Library, c2011.

“The car shot across the square, barreling past a midnight crowd emerging from a church. He had driven into the old part of the city, and the car was bumping along cobblestone streets. In the backseat, the children slept on. One of the figures launched itself off the side of a brownstone, landing atop the car with a shuddering crash. A moment later, a pale hand punched down through the roof and began peeling away the metal shell. A second attacker seized the back of the car and dug its heels into the street, tearing grooves through the century-old stones.
‘A little further,’ the man murmured, ‘just a little further.’
They entered a park, white with snow and utterly empty, the car skating across the frozen ground. Just ahead, he could see the dark swath of the river. And then everything seemed to happen at once: the old man gunned the engine, the last figure attached itself to the door, the roof was ripped open so the night air poured in; perhaps the only thing that didn’t change was the children, who slept through it all, oblivious. Then the car flew off a small rise and was launched out over the river. (5)

Kate, Michael, and Emma have been on their own for the last ten years, migrating from orphanage to orphanage after their parents disappeared. The three siblings maintain the belief that one day they all will be reunited into one family. But when they stumble across a book at their newest “home” that transports them back in time, they realize that their parents might have had a reason for leaving them behind. When they encounter dwarves, magic, and an evil countess, they must rely on each other more than ever for strength and support as they work to recover the book and find their way home.

LOVED this book! Every review I’ve read is comparing it to Harry Potter meets Narnia, and I can see the resemblance. But this book is all its own, and is certain to find a fan base. The dialogue is realistic, and Jim Dale is at his expected best (although now that I’ve listened to two or three of his audiobooks, I’m recognizing voices he’s used for other characters). The snappy dialogue probably comes from his experience as a writer for Gilmore Girls (which I loved when it was on and still catch reruns). A little warning for younger readers, the dwarf king drops a “Bloody Hell” quite frequently when he makes his appearance, but it fits with his character, which Dale reads in a sort of Irish/Scottish brogue (I don’t know the difference, sorry!). Emma and Michael quarrel amongst themselves in typical sibling fashion, with Emma thinking Michael’s obsession with dwarves is “stupid” and Michael defending himself. But they are refreshingly loyal to each other, with the sisters standing up for Michael when he gets picked on by the other residents of the orphanages. Their inquisitive nature shows, especially when readers witness first hand their meeting with a prospective placement. And the bad guys, are BAD, and I could imagine younger kids having nightmares if they saw them in the movies. I on the other hand, loved the descriptions!

The one quibble that some people seem to have is that this book is obviously meant for older elementary and middle school students due to the confusing and convoluted concept of time travel. The three siblings alter time, and by the end of the book you’re left wondering what sort of circuitous time warp/loop the participants are stuck in. However, I thought Stephens did a serviceable job at not only explaining what happened but also making the two timelines converge in a relatively seemless manner… or as close to seemless as you can get when you’re talking about rewriting close to 20 years of history. There are a few bumps in the road, but if you’re willing to accept that this is what happens and not question too deeply the how, then you’re blithely appeased by the sugary sweet happy ending, just like I was. Another thing that might offend younger minds is the violence that the children in the story witness, but you should probably expect that in 400+ page fantasy books by now.

The first in a trilogy, I’ll be looking forward to the other two to see just how the story develops. This review is posted in honor of Charlotte’s Library’s Timeslip Tuesday, which is when she makes an effort to review a book having to do with time travel or timeslips. You can check out more about the author and the book by visiting the website.