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*Atherton #1: The House of Power* by Patrick Carman- young readers fantasy book review
Also by Patrick Carman:

Rivers of Fire (Atherton, Book Two)
Atherton #1: The House of Power
by Patrick Carman
Ages 9-12 352 pages Little, Brown April 2007 Hardcover    

Picture yourself living on a sort of triple-layer cake of a miniature planet: Atherton, a man-made satellite circling the Earth, which is now known as the “Dark Planet,” dark and gloomy, dying out due to environmental woes. Atherton resembles a top, or an upside-down mushroom, and its three levels are separated from each other by sheer vertical cliffs as well as by a social class structure. The rich and powerful rulers of Atherton - and their servants - live in the top level, the Highlands. The second level is called Tabletop, where the commoners live and work tirelessly in fig groves and rabbit and sheep farms to keep the Highlands supplied with food. The third level of Atherton is the most mysterious, with a population of just two humans, though it has thousands of voracious creatures called Cleaners that live there, as well.

This is the world of Atherton: The House of Power, Patrick Carman’s latest book and the start of a remarkable new series with an ecological message accompanying a suspenseful plot and interesting characters that’ll keep you turning pages until it’s finished. Patrick Carman has written many books previously, though he’s perhaps best known as the bestselling author of the excellent “The Land of Elyon” series. Though the ecological message of ATHoP is implicit, Carman doesn’t beat his readers over the head with it or let it get in the way of his story, that of the skinny but tough eleven-year-old boy Edgar and a dimly-held memory he has that a man he once met has hidden a treasure for him to find somewhere on Atherton.

Edgar, like all of the people from his town in Tabletop, works in the fig grove run by cruel old Mr. Ratikan. Figs are an important source of food for all of Tabletop and the only sweetener that the people of Atherton have, though most of the crop goes to the rulers of Atherton, in the Highlands. Mr. Ratikan is the overseer of the grove, given that power by Lord Phineus, the ruler of all of Atherton, who lives in the House of Power in the Highlands. A problem with the figs is that after the third years’ harvest, the figs the trees produce become poisonous, and the fourth-year trees must be destroyed.

It’s not an easy life being an orphan and a bit of a rebel. Edgar often winds up being hit by Mr. Ratikan’s walking stick and going without food and water as punishment for acts of minor misbehavior. He learns on his own how to make and use a sling and, though he has few friends, a girl named Isabel who has been spying on him and admiring him becomes his closest ally. She is also one of the major characters of ATHoP, and Carman divides chapters from the points of view of Edgar, Isabel, and another ally Edgar eventually meets after he climbs the cliffs to the Highlands, the boy Samuel.

Climbing the cliffs is against the rules, and Edgar knows that if he’s caught, the punishment will be severe. That does not stop him from doing it. When he puts his hand and arm in a hole in the cliff and feels around inside, what he pulls out of it is a leather-bound book - not at all the sort of “treasure” he’s been expecting to find. He has spent many nights building up his strength, speed, and climbing skills, going farther up the cliffs each time, and the irony is that when he finally finds the treasure he’s been searching for, a book, he is confronted by the fact that since he can’t read, the book will be useless to him until he can locate someone who can read it to him.

The book of secrets that Edgar discovers, he comes to realize, holds knowledge some people of the Highlands believe is worth dying - or killing - for. As he learns more about it from the friend he makes there who can read, Samuel, he knows that the knowledge in the book will change his, and everyone else’s, lives forever. Within the pages of the book is the answer to why mysterious quakes and shifting of the land have been occurring in Atherton. This upheaval in the inhabitants’ lives is enough to provoke a war between the people of the Highlands and of Tabletop.

Atherton: The House of Power is a fun, suspenseful, somewhat haunting book that’s a pleasure to read. It’s a great debut of a new series, and I look forward to the next book with anticipation. As a bonus, the novel also comes with a CD that tells you more secrets about Atherton and gives you a glance into the brain of the “mad scientist” who built it, Dr. Harding. It’s a book I highly recommend to kids of all ages!

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  Douglas R. Cobb/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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