Magical books, ancient prophecies, the fate of the world hanging in the balance ... it all sounds rather typical middle grade fantasy fare, and it is. But THE EMERALD ATLAS (Knopf Books, 2011) is told in a new and interesting way that makes it original.
The author, John Stephens, is a former TV writer (Gossip Girls, The OC) and he brings his snark to the voices of his three young characters. Kate (the eldest and responsible one), Michael (bookworm and fantastical one) and Emma (the feisty, no nonsense one) have been shuffled from orphanage to orphanage for the past ten years, always believing their parents alive and would someday come to collect them.
After being taken in by the mysterious Dr. Pym who lives in a big empty house in the strangely child-free town of Cambridge Falls, the children discover a magical book that, when a photograph is placed on one of its blank pages, transports the holder to where/when the picture was taken. This is a cool twist on the typical time travel concept, and one that allows the children's backstory to be revealed in a less than chronological way, as all events affect one another.
But it seems that Dr. Pym knows more about them then he is telling. And what happened to the children of Cambridge Falls? Can Kate, Michael and Emma somehow save them?
The audio book is narrated by Jim Dale (known to most audio book listeners as the voice of the Harry Potter series) and he does his characteristic best in bringing the words to life (although every once in a while I think he sounds a bit like Christopher Walken which makes me laugh.)
The story is enjoyable and filled with twists and turns, fabulously evil characters, gruesome monsters, and heroic warriors, but there are moments when the time jumps and physics weigh down the highly complex plot line. As the first of the series, I'm curious to see where Stephens will take this. Not one of my top faves but a fun, interesting read. For 8 and up.