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The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens (audio)

The Books of Beginning: book one. Unabridged audio book on 10 compact discs. Read by Jim Dale. Listening Library, 2011.

The book opens on a Christmas Eve, with three very young children being hurriedly bundled out of their home into an awaiting car, which peels off into the night with something pursuing it. Fast forward ten years, and these three orphans are at The Edgar Allan Poe Home for Hopeless and Incorrigible Children. The children have been shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, each worse than the last and this one is truly awful. They have been warned by Miss Crumley, the director that someone was interested in adopting three children and that they'd best be on their best behavior, or they were out, on their way to a new orphanage she promised would be awful.

Well. Mrs. Lovestock has an unhealthy obsession with swans, a milquetoast husband and unrealistic views about children. The children dislike and mistrust her immediately, but Kate, the eldest, worries that the next orphanage will be truly awful and does not want to displease. When Emma insults Mrs. Lovestock, she's about to tell her to apologize, but Mrs. Lovestock does the unforgivable - she calls them orphans. Even Michael pipes up and defies both Mrs. Lovestock and Miss Crumley by insisting that they are not orphans and that their parents will return for them. Someday. Even though he can remember neither their faces nor his last name.

They arrive by train at Westport, on the shores of Lake Champlain and no one is there to meet them and no one they ask has ever heard of Cambridge Falls, their destination. Then, a boat appears out a dense fog, a man named Abraham calls out to them and they're off. Along the way, they learn that they will be the only orphans in the orphanage and that they need to hurry along because they can't be out on the road after nightfall because of the wolves.

Once they arrive, they find that the place isn't so bad, except for the housekeeper, who doesn't seem to like them and has an annoying habit of calling them the king and queens of France. It's a little creepy how they are the only children, but the place is interesting to explore. They soon find themselves in possession of a magical book that whisks them back in time and into danger that they never knew could exist. 

It seems the three are very special and were hidden for their own protection. 

Of course, the book has been compared to Harry Potter. We've got the orphan thing going, the parents who were sacrificed (maybe), the magic, the powerful evil villain searching for something that will make it more powerful, unanswered questions, half-truths, and ultimately, a hero's journey.

And, the fact that the audiobook is narrated by Jim Dale, narrator of the Harry Potter series and the only reason why I was able to continue the series past HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban. He is an extraordinary narrator. I read the first three Peter and the Starcatcher books with my ears and adored his narration, even though the voice he used for the villain in that series was eerily like the voice he used for Voldemort.

One of the things I love about any Dale narration, in addition to the amazing voices that he gives each character, is the pacing. He never rushes. He is also never hammy or over-the-top. He can make me laugh or cry with just a pause or change in modulation. I adored the voices that he gave the children, Kate, Michael and Emma. 

In addition to being a rip-roaring yarn, the sibling dynamics and dialogue were spot on and so, so entertaining. 

I had an arc of this book sitting rather high on my tbr pile, when Teri Lesesne, aka Professor Nana, posted a review of the audiobook, positively raving about the performance. I immediately ordered it online. Then, I learned that my fave indie was hosting the author, so I ordered a copy from them to be autographed to the students of my school. I will most likely also donate the audiobook after my husband listens to it. 

And, I eagerly await book 2. This is a must purchase book for school and public libraries. Give it to your fantasy fans, fans of Harry, fans of time travel books, fans of books with action. Give it to all your young readers. Visit the website for the book here