Reading level: Middle Grade
Size: 432 pages
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Stand Alone or Series: 1st in The Books of Beginning series
Source: ARC from Amazon Vine
Rating: 5/5 stars
I got a copy of this book through the Amazon Vine program. It immediately caught my eye and the premise sounded wonderful. This is the first book in what will be a trilogy which each book focusing on a different sibling and a different Book of Beginning.
Kate, Emma, and Michael are orphans who have been shipping from one orphange to another for the last ten years or so. Well, technically they don’t think they are really orphans because they know that their parents had to give them up and hide them for some reason. When they are placed in a strange orphange in Cambridge Falls they find a strange green book in one of the rooms there. The book sends them somewhere else when they place a picture in it. It sends them back in time to camrbide Falls under the rule of an evil witch. With dwarves and wizards at their side it is up to these three kids to save Cambridge Falls from becoming the wasteland it is in the present time.
As Stephens states himself he is a long time fan of Lord of the Rings and of the Chronicles of Narnia and that definitely shows in this book. You have the trio of siblings sent off to save a different world; but in this case it is the same world at a past time. Some of the baddies in this book have a feeling similar to the baddies in the Lord of the Rings. The way the whole adventures ties in with the fate of the world also has a bit of a Lord of the Rings feeling to it.
The siblings have very distinct personalities and a lot of depth to them. The characters surrounding them are equal in depth and very intriguing. You have Dr. Pym, who channels that whole old wise wizard vibe and Gabriel, who has the whole noble sort of ranger/warrior thing going on. At times the characters are a bit stereotypical, but not in a bad way. These characters greeted me to the story like warm friends that I have fond memories of, but never really got to know all that well until now.
The plot is very well done. Like any good fantasy you have a simpler plot that gets resolved in this book and then a broader plot that spans the series. There is no horrible cliffhanger, Stephens doesn’t need to do that to make you want more. The broader plot in general is enough to make me really want to read the next book. The plot is both immediate and far-reaching and I love that all that range is covered. The story has a very epic feel to it at times, but never gets too complex or too impersonal. The writing style is easy to read, has wonderful action scenes, is hard to put down, and it filled with excellent description that really pull the reader in.
You might ask but how does the time travel fit in with fantasy? The answer is very well in this case. Stephens pulls it off seamlessly and even takes time to have Dr. Pym explain how all the crazy traveling back and forth was reconciled with real history etc.
Overall just an absolutely wonderful middle grade fantasy. I highly recommend this book to all fantasy fans. It is appropriate for a middle grade, or even slightly younger audience as far as content is concerned. This is one of those special middle grade fantasies that adults will enjoy too; it assumes that kids can handle a well thought out and complex plot (which of course they can!) Fans of Harry Potter, the Chronicles of Narnia, His Dark Materials, Lord of the Rings, Percy and the Olympians, and Fablehaven will find a lot here to love. I cannot wait to read the next book and see what happens next!