Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

After ten years in increasingly miserable orphanages, Kate, Michael, and Emma are given one last chance at a mysterious school in Cambridge Falls.

Kate is the only one who remembers their parents and she is determined never to forget their promise to return, and never to forget her promise to care for her younger siblings. Michael is obsessed with dwarves, a book of dwarf history his only link with his parents. Emma has no memories of her parents and learned that she must fight for everything - and she does.

Strange magic, startling discoveries, trips back into time, betrayals, magical creatures, etc. etc. and so on ensue.

I read this book with mild enjoyment, but I can't see much difference from the "children without parents go on a quest" themed fantasy that seems to get churned out every month. Every book is going to be the new Big Fantasy, every one is touted to the skies, and they all seem to fall short.

This was a good read, with plenty of adventure and mystery, and although the characters were somewhat stereotypical (Kate is the Responsible Oldest Sibling With Guilt, Michael is the Quiet Middle Boy Who Knows Things and Emma is the Tough Youngest Girl Who Wants To Be Treated With Respect) Stephens flips this in a few cases as their desperate desire to have their parents back leads them to actions that betray each other. The dwarves were a humorous addition, although adding them doubled the weight of the plot, and I'm still deciding about the Noble But Aloof Natives.

Thick middle grade fantasies, the thicker the better, seem to be the order of the day. However, in my circulation statistics and in what I have observed, the market for these is rapidly declining. A small number of tweens read voraciously and can't get enough of these doorstopper books. But an even larger percentage are discouraged by such thick tomes. For example, the circulation of my juvenile series section (all thin chapter books and taking up two ranges of shelves) is about 3,000 a year. The circulation of my juvenile graphic novels (less than one range of shelves) is about 3,000 a year. The circulation of our juvenile fiction (mixture of thick and thin chapters, heavy on the thick, and cover about 4 ranges of shelving) is about 3,000 a year.

Get my point? I would like to see fewer series, and more slim volumes, like Gordon Korman's excellent quartets and trilogies of adventure stories that are broken in manageable bites. With shrinking budgets and shelf space and waning interest in reading, I'm looking for fantasies that stand out - and this one just doesn't.

Verdict: I did actually buy this one, since it hit the bestseller list and was lauded on many blogs and in reviews. I wish I'd had the time to read it first, as I now rather regret that and would recommend only buying it if you have a large population of thick fantasy readers or a generous budget.

ISBN: 978-0-375-86870-2; Published April 2011 by Alfred Knopf; Reviewed from ARC picked up at ALA Midwinter 2011; Purchased for the library

1 comment:

Ruth Donnelly said...

I agree--Emerald Atlas was okay, but did not stand out. It didn't make me care deeply about the characters.