The Emerald Island by John Stephens felt very familiar. We have the aforementioned time traveling children who have been abandoned by their parents (albeit unwillingly and for their own good) and shuffled from one horrible orphanage to another. There’s a coveted magical object, an evil witch, a wise yet enigmatic wizard, and a prophecy. These are hardly new elements in children’s fantasy, but popular tropes become popular because they work. And Stephens pulls off these tropes well.
The story starts off a little slowly, but once Kate, Michael, and Emma find the titular book that allows them to travel back in time, shenanigans ensue and the pace moves along quite nicely. The writing is sharp and I laughed out loud several times. There’s plenty of exciting action that should please the boys, but there are also a few quieter emotional moments that I felt were well earned. Also, there are dwarves, if you’re into that sort of thing. I did think that the rules of time travel were a bit sketchy. Dr. Pym, the wizard, makes a half-hearted attempt to explain them, but the tone seems to be “oh just go with it.” Which is probably best. Too much magical exposition can bog down a story.
The three main kids all start off as archetypes: the nerd, the brat with the temper, and the oldest who is charged with keeping the family together. But they all learn, and change, and grow. They all have flaws and make serious mistakes, but make up for those mistakes with loyalty and courage. I found myself loving and being seriously annoyed with each of these characters at different parts of the story, but since they’re all kids, I think that’s to be expected.
The Emerald Atlas is the first in the Books of Beginning trilogy (because apparently every book is required to be a part of a trilogy now) and it does it’s first book in a trilogy job nicely. That is, it wraps up the first story while setting up the story for the following books. After all, you never know if the first book is going to be successful enough to warrant a second book so you better make sure the first one stands on its own. This book has been getting a ton of attention though, so I’m sure we’ll get a second book and it will end on a giant cliffhanger. I can’t say that I’m shaking with anticipation for the next book, but I am looking forward to whatever magical hijinks John Stephens has in store for us.