By John Stephens

Knopf. $17.99. Ages 8-12

With e-books and apps in ascent, the physical book seems beleaguered these days. But in John Stephens’s first fantasy novel, “The Emerald Atlas,” everything depends on a mysterious paper-and-ink book.

Three siblings — Kate (14), Michael (12) and Emma (11) — find a strange, green-covered tome in a hulking orphanage, their 13th dismal home in 10 years. This book whisks them willy-nilly to points in the past, but the children dwell for most of the tale in a time 15 years prior to their arrival at the orphanage when a beautiful, evil countess rules the mountainous region. She forces the inhabitants to search for a magical, long-hidden emerald atlas. As the children learn more about the identity and power of the book in their possession, they gradually discover how intricately it twines through their family history. Might this atlas offer passage to their parents, who disappeared a decade ago? As Kate grapples with that question, Michael and Emma prepare to battle the countess and her undead minions with the help of friendly dwarves and giant natives. The novel’s high energy and humor lightens the tone while still honoring the heartfelt quest for family. The ending — with some questions answered and others emerging — paves the way well for the second book in this promising trilogy.

Mary Quattlebaum

Kate, age 14 (p. 14)

Michael, age 12 (p. 15, says he is year older than younger sister)

Emma, age 11 (p. 13)

13th dismal home in 10 years (p. 17. They are now at 12th and are about to be sent to the 13th, which is hulking orphanage of review)

fifteen years prior (p. 55)