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Book Review

This book has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine. It is the first book in "The Books of Beginning" series.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Fourteen-year-old Kate doesn't remember much about her parents. On Christmas Eve 10 years earlier, they frantically handed her and her younger siblings, Michael and Emma, to a mysterious man. The man deposited them at an orphanage, and they'd been in orphanages ever since.

At this time, the kids find themselves in a remote village called Cambridge Falls, living in a huge, run-down house. In this so-called orphanage, they are the only children. A friendly groundskeeper named Abraham and a snippy housekeeper named Miss Sallow attend to them as they await the return of the orphanage director, Dr. Pym. As the children explore the house, Michael finds a secret door leading to a study. There they discover an old book with a green leather cover and blank pages. When one of Abraham's old photos brushes against a page, the children are transported 15 years into the past.

They barely recognize Cambridge Falls, which is alive with trees, homes and a large lake. Almost immediately, they're captured by a creature resembling an undead soldier from centuries past. They learn the creatures are called morum cadi, or deathless warriors. They refer to them as Screechers because of the terrifying and painful sounds they make. The Screecher takes the kids to a clearing where the rest of the children of Cambridge Falls are surrounded by morum cadi.

Their head captor soon appears, a lovely countess who looks about 16. Despite her beauty and sweet speech, the countess is an evil witch. She has kidnapped the town's children, refusing to return them until the men of the village find her a magical book. The book, and two other volumes like it, contains ancient and powerful secrets so dangerous that some wizards felt they should be buried forever. The volumes are known as the "Books of Beginnings."

Kate and Emma manage to return to the present, but Michael is left behind. Abraham explains to the girls that the magical world and the human world were once intertwined. He says as the human world grew, magical beings formed their own secret regions and rewrote history so humankind would forget they ever existed. He indicates that magical beings still live in the surrounding areas. The girls also meet Dr. Pym and tell him their life story. Abraham gives the girls a photo that allows them to travel back in time and find Michael. Michael has told the Countess about the book they found, called the Atlas. The Countess cannot keep the copy the girls have, as it has not come from her time period.

The Atlas vanishes, and the Countess imprisons the children. Abraham appears and sneaks Kate and her siblings out through secret passageways, but not before Kate promises the Cambridge Falls children she will return to save them. During their escape, Kate overhears the Countess say that the Atlas has "marked" Kate. Kate soon realizes she doesn't need a photograph to travel through time.

As the Countess's ravenous wolves pursue them, the children run through rain and darkness. A giant man named Gabriel rescues them. He tells them he belongs to one of the magical groups that has retreated into the mountains. When they hear Screechers nearby, Gabriel leads them toward his village. He tells the children the pain one feels when hearing a Screecher's cry is only in one's mind. He urges them to manage their fear.

As Gabriel battles Screechers, Kate and Michael become separated from him and Emma. The Countess's assistant corners Gabriel and Emma, but they quickly escape. Gabriel takes Emma, who has been hit by a Screecher's arrow, to the healer in his village. Gabriel, like Emma, is poisoned by an arrow. He is dying when Emma's tears heal him. Emma convinces the members of Gabriel's town that they must help the people of Cambridge Falls.

Meanwhile, dwarves capture Kate and Michael. The leader, named Robbie, and Michael develop an understanding, as Michael is an avid dwarf researcher. Robbie graciously puts them in a cell with Dr. Pym, the Dr. Pym from 15 years earlier, who doesn't seem to know the children. They tell him about the Atlas. The dwarf king, Hamish, decides to go on a hunt for the magical book himself. He takes the children along after Dr. Pym convinces him of their magic. After a long journey, the group of dwarves and the two children find the book.

When Kate touches it, she is transported into the past. There she briefly sees Dr. Pym and her long-lost mother. When she returns, she no longer has the book. Hamish hardly has time to be angry before the Countess's assistant appears and captures the group. Gabriel and his townspeople, with Emma in tow, attack. They battle against the Countess's morum cadi and other creatures. Robbie leads an army of dwarves to join the battle, and good prevails.

The children and their allies return to Cambridge Falls to save the town's children and vanquish the Countess. Once they return to their own time, Dr. Pym reveals that it is the children's destiny to protect the "Books of Beginnings." He throws a huge party, and all of the town's children (now adults) attend to thank Kate, Michael and Emma for saving them.

Christian Beliefs

A nun presides over the orphanage where Dr. Pym originally leaves the children. Kate "prays" a few times (the equivalent of wishing or hoping).

Other Belief Systems

The Atlas is one of three magic books, the most powerful volumes ever written. Each book has the capacity to reshape the world. When the Atlas "marks" Kate, she has visions and the magical ability to travel through time.

Dr. Pym is a wizard, and the Countess is a witch. Both have the ability to cast powerful spells. The Countess says there's no such thing as chance when it comes to magic, but everything happens for a reason. When Emma is dying, she's taken to a magic healer, called a wisewoman, in Gabriel's village.

The Screechers (or morum cadi) are also called deathless warriors. They were men hundreds of years ago who sold their souls for power and eternal life. They can't feel compassion or pain. Gabriel tells of other mystical creatures in the area called hannudin (ghouls known as hope killers) and salmac-tar, which are beasts that gave birth to goblins.

Learning Gabriel is alive, Emma thinks, "thank you, thank you, thank you." The narrator says it's unclear whom she is addressing in her gratitude. After killing an animal, Gabriel says he must ask for the pardon of its spirit.

Authority Roles

Dr. Pym, a wizard, is a friend and ally to the children. He helps them fulfill their destinies as guardians of the "Books of Beginnings." Mrs. Lovestock, a woman who considers adopting the children, tells them their parents obviously didn't want them or they wouldn't be in an orphanage. The Countess holds many children hostage and threatens to kill one each week until she gets what she wants. She causes an accident with acid that disfigures one of her rivals. The rival then goes insane.

The Countess tells Kate that she (the Countess) has made half a dozen attempts to poison her current husband. Gabriel rescues Kate, Michael and Emma and fights for their safety. He grows to love Emma as he would a daughter.


Abraham uses the Lord's name in vain on several occasions. Hamish frequently says bloody, and the dwarves say 'ell a few times. The phrase d--n my soul appears once. The orphanage burns down thanks to a nun's habit of smoking in bed. Many Screechers are cut in half and destroyed. A wolf shatters a Screecher's skull and catches another Screecher in midair before breaking its neck. The action and battle scenes aren't bloody or graphic.


The Countess predicts she will have an affair with one of her party guests. She says it won't end well, and she'll have to slaughter him and his entire family.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: A nun offers Dr. Pym monk's ale. The Countess drinks vodka and wine. King Hamish is slovenly drunk and a glutton. Some of the dwarves with whom he's feasting are passed out drunk. A dwarf awakens the unconscious Kate by giving her whisky. At a celebration, the narrator says there is mulled wine, hard cider and dwarf ale for the adults.

Smoking: Dr. Pym and Abraham smoke pipes.

Gambling: Dwarves place monetary bets on how long an elderly dwarf will live.

Suicide: When Hamish learns he's no longer king, he tries to kill himself by chopping off his own head. He only manages to knock himself unconscious.

Theft: Michael sneaks into an orphanage director's office and steals her candy

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


John Stephens






Record Label



Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House Inc.


On Video

Year Published





We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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