The Emerald Atlas – Books of Beginning

Kate, Michael and Emma grew up in orphanages, but they are not orphans. As the oldest, Kate remembers their parents best. She remembers her mother saying good-bye, promising they would be together as a family again.

But that was ten years ago. Ten difficult years. Kate has done her best to keep the memory of their parents alive in her siblings, to keep her family together – all while wondering why. Why were they separated from their parents? Where are they now? Why haven’t their parents come for them?

She’s about to have some of her questions answered in the new orphanage in Cambridge Falls. It is a mysterious place – what kind of orphanage has only three children?

Then they discover an enchanted atlas. And the real adventures begin.

I am not a huge fan of fantasy books, but I really enjoyed this one. The seemingly impossible situations pile on top of each other, as author John Stephens creates more suspense and adventure with every chapter. I listened to the audio book, read by master narrator Jim Dale whose varying voices and consistent characters are unmatched in audio narration.

Highly recommended for ages 10 and up.

Note on worldview: The interesting thing about fantasy is that authors can break the rules of this world, usually using ‘magic’ as their tool. This series in no exception. What is also interesting about fantasy is that it reveals the author’s worldview, some more clearly than others. As I continue reading / listening to this series, Stephen’s worldview has come more clearly into focus. I point this out so you can be aware of it, not to discourage you from reading them.

I can more clearly explain this in contrast to CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis uses ‘magic’ too, but it’s a deep magic, to which Aslan himself is subject. Aslan is also the creator of that world, and a personal, intimate personality with power.

In the Books of Beginning, the magic is collective, from a group of magicians thousands of years earlier, who wrote their wisdom into these books. The power is a very impersonal force, held in a book, which awakens the magic within the children. Yet this impersonal magic requires the children to give themselves utterly to the book – the impersonal force. In Stephen’s world, the universe expands and then implodes upon itself, and then is reborn, again and again.

Very little of this is evident in The Emerald Atlas. Most of it comes out in the second book, The Fire Chronicle. In the third book, The Black Reckoning, everything, of course, climaxes into a huge battle between the forces of good and evil – which in Stephen’s world is not necessarily easy to discern. Emma ends up in the world of the dead, searching for her book of magic, which (spoiler alert!) requires her to judge the dead.

This is another worldview issue which would make for an interesting discussion with children – assuming you read to (or listen to) the books together. In a plot twist (another spoiler alert!), how Emma decides to judge the dead ends up saving the children and their enemy / friend, the Dire Magnus / Rafe.

I highly recommend reading this series with children. It is a great example of how fiction is shaped by world view.

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