The Emerald Atlas - John Stephens

Summary from Amazon:
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.


Kate, Michael and Emma are three orphans living in very poor conditions. Moved from orphanage to orphanage, they can only rely on each other for support. When they are moved to Cambridge Falls, their love and trust for each other will be thoroughly tested by the presence of spooky characters and extraordinary events.

The characterisation is one of the strongest and best aspect of this novel. The three main characters have different personalities which are acutely depicted. Even though they all come from the same mould, their age difference (important when it comes to their parents as Kate remembers them very well, Michael a little bit and Emma the youngest not at all) is one of the factors that differenciate them. Kate, the eldest, feels the weight of the responsibility her parents entrusted in her the night they disappeared. She wouldn't change her brother and sister for anything in the world but she wonders how different her life might have been without having to take care of them. Michael is very introverted and plunges himself in fantasy worlds populated by dwarves he discovered in one of his father's books, he is also very bright and seems to know everything (much to Emma's annoyance!). Emma is a bundle of strength, courage, determination and a bit of mischief rolled into one. She hardly thinks before acting and she never backs down. Of cource, Emma was by far my favourite character :)
But the fantastic characters don't stop at the three protagonists and a real care is taken to describe all the other characters and species.
The eerie setting is almost a promise of adventure and great danger in itself. Very remote and only accessible through a boat, Cambridge Falls doesn't feel like a home to the children when they first arrive. There are way too many secrets in it and they can't quite figure out the people living in it.

I won't spoil the fun by telling you what the fantasy aspect of the story is but I really thought that the book was an interesting take on magic/time travelling/world history and it is a great beginning to a fascinating new series. There was variety in characters and events and the story was at times laugh-out-loud funny and at others moving. The constant bickering between Emma and Michael is hilarious and I'm sure kids with siblings would relate to this book!

You can feel that the writer has been working for TV/cinema because the book has a very good pace and keeps you hooked throughout the story. The twists and turns of the plot are cleverly placed and not overwhelming or unbelievable.

I was disappointed to realise that the dwarves and screechers were very Lord Of The Rings-y but I hope the sequels will bring us fascinating new fantasy species.

The Emerald Atlas is a fantastic new series for tweens (and older!). There are some great themes about family, sibling relationships, courage and responsibility which bring depth to a great adventure story. The story has a lot of potential and I can't wait to read the sequels and discover a new adventure with the characters!

The Emerald Atlas | John Stephens | 2011 | Bought and read on my kindle.


  1. Glad you liked it too. I am looking forward to the second book in the series.

  2. I havent read this one... I've been put off a bit by the cover I think... I'm not sure why though! but after reading so many good reviews I may have to give it a go!

  3. This sounds just my type of book! I LOVE tween fantasy, I'll have to get to this sometime! I haven't read Lord of the Rings (I know. I'm ashamed.) so I don't think that will take away from the book for me.