While A Reader's Respite can't claim that John Stephens wrote an entirely original new Young Adult Fantasy/Adventure in The Emerald Atlas, we can tell you that originality aside, this was a rollicking good ride.
Time-travel, dwarfs, evil warloards, benevolent wizards, and one very pissy Russian countess all come together to present the adventure of a lifetime for three young orphaned siblings in this first-book-in-a-series. Shades of Middle Earth and Narnia abound throughout the story, but one can forgive that in light of the well-rounded characters.
Kate, Michael and Emma have been shuffled around various shabby orphanages for as long as they can remember and this latest one is the worst yet. Oddly, they seem to be the only three children there. And when they discover a strange book in a forgotten room, their adventure - and the mystery - begin. Resourceful without being overly-precocious, the children start to piece together the mystery of their vanished parents and encounter a magical world that exists within our own, albeit hidden from view.
Geared towards a YA audience, none of the plot or dialog is simple or insipid which makes this a fun read for adults, as well. And talk about a fast-moving plot....yowza....A Reader's Respite had to stop in our tracks several times and re-read a paragraph or two just to make sure we were keeping up.
But the best part of this novel? The fully-developed and often quirky secondary characters that abound throughout the novel. Stephens didn't skimp in this department and for this reader, it made all the difference between just another Lord of the Rings/Narnia/Harry Potter knockoff novel and a fresh, new voice.
At 400+ pages, this isn't a skimpy book. But it was engrossing and fast-paced enough that we blew through it in about 48 hours. Stephens has our attention.....where's the next installment?