Though the plot is complex, Laine’s artful ability to tie together every detail keeps it understandable. Each character and event has purpose, with the threads expertly woven together to feel clever, not contrived. Alessia’s support system is no different; her classmate crew-turned good-guy-posse—“the unusual bunch that she was now making her accomplices”—and budding relationship with a mysterious boy, Vulcor, each ultimately aid Alessia in her quest for the truth while also adding sweet and humorous side stories. All the while, Laine crafts picturesque prose (“she felt like a fizzy drink that had just been shaken”) and realistic dialogue, sprinkled with imaginative elements like color-changing clothes and teleportation bubbles.
The book also has a message of acceptance which comes through in both worldbuilding (Wimmi and Felthor are a same-sex couple) and plot: Emperor Oscor believes Atlantis’s indigenous population to be “second-class citizens.” He long ago separated those species, yet, when Alessia befriends a blue person of Minch, she realizes there’s no need for the divide and demonstrates the need for acceptance and equality. Drawn in by Alessia’s determination and empathy, as well as the age-old draw of Atlantis, fantasy readers will be wrapped up in this underwater tale.
Takeaway: Alessia’s magical journey to the lost city of Atlantis and the discovery of her family’s history will enrapture middle grade fantasy readers.
Great for fans of: Shannon Messenger’s Keeper of the Lost Cities series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Kali Wallace’s City of Islands.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: B
Aquatic and exotic; a fun and fast-moving tale of friendship.
This debut middle-grade novel sees a young girl discover her heritage and battle intrigue in the Lost City of Atlantis.
Having grown up with her stepfather in Inverness in the Scottish Highlands, 11-year-old Alessia moves to the southwest coast to learn about her long-dead parents. The only keepsake they left her was a special fork, set with a blue gemstone and an engraved sun symbol. Alessia takes the fork everywhere, so she has it with her when an overturned rowboat whisks her away to the bottom of the ocean. Atlantis, it turns out, is a sunken city state, and Alessia is an Atlantide citizen on her father’s side. Atlantis is a place of wonder, yet all is not right there. Alessia’s fork is an entry key to the Octopus’s Garden, a school for young Atlantides. But its emblem has been banned by the despotic Emperor after a group of ex-student dissidents adopted it. Alessia wants to find out more about her father but is warned against asking questions. Instead, she must investigate in secret, helped by her new school friends. Can Alessia get to the heart of the conspiracies surrounding her and the strong empathic reactions she’s suffered throughout her schooling? Laine writes in the third person, past tense, from Alessia’s viewpoint. The prose is simple and descriptive (though occasionally pushing the upper bounds of middle-grade vocabulary).The dialogue is well suited to the characters. The setting of Atlantis (and the wider undersea world “Nethuns”) is colorfully rendered, full of strange creatures and striking cultural adornments. Alessia takes these in stride; likewise, the plots, plans, and machinations she uncovers. She is at once inquisitive yet unquestioning. Adult readers may balk at this, but Alessia’s naïveté—her focus on people rather than any higher logic in making decisions—seems very much in keeping with her age group. The author maintains a fast pace throughout and cultivates a diverse, likable cast of characters. For all the overt focus on Alessia’s journey of discovery, the underlying story is steeped in developing friendships. Young readers will enjoy this dynamic as much as the adventure itself.
In this Atlantis-centered exploration of identity and friendship, Scottish 11-year-old Alessia Cogner, a “short girl with deathly pale skin and roughly cropped mousy-brown hair,” longs to know her dead parents, but the only thing they left her is an odd fork set and an even stranger blue gem. At her new boarding school, Alessia tries to hide her idiosyncrasy: she is “bizarrely oversensitive.” Before she can settle in, however, she is lured to the sea and brought in an overturned rowboat into the depths of the forgotten world of Atlantis. There, Alessia learns that she is an Atlantide, like her father. Secretly searching for the truth behind his death, Alessia relies upon the help of new friends—a few with secrets of their own—and sets out to unravel a labyrinthine conspiracy. Laine builds a fantastical world, surrounding Alessia with imaginative creatures and richly detailed cities, including seahorse taxis and whirlpool visions. Older readers may question Alessia’s ease at integrating into Atlantide society, but her innocence feels par for her age in this quick-moving, enjoyable undersea adventure. Ages 10–up.
Alessia in Atlantis by Nathalie Laine tells the story of The Forbidden Vial. Alessia is 12 years old and it isn’t unheard of for her to lose control and kick off at school. When a giant frog monster attacks her, she is plunged deep beneath the water to Atlantis. There she learns that her father, lost long ago, may have come from there and Alessia is determined to find out all she can. Staying in Atlantis, she joins the Atlantide School: The Octopus’s Garden. The Atlantide emperor has put a spanner in the works though. Nobody is allowed to ask about any missing people and Alessia is struggling to find out what she needs to know. Joining forces with her school friends, Alessia is reduced to stealing the evidence she needs to start her on her journey of discovery. Trouble is never far away though and somebody knows who Alessia is and who her father is – they will stop at nothing to stop her, even killing her.
Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial by Nathalie Laine is a wonderful story, full of suspense and adventure. It pulses with action right from the start in a unique tale with a magical setting and a fun plot with lots of twists and turns. The characters are wonderfully quirky and well-developed; it may be a magical story but the characters have real characteristics and flaws and are easy to relate to. This is a page-turner, a book you won’t want to put down as every chapter ends leaving you hanging, wanting more. It is perfectly suited to the audience it was written for and kids are going to love this story.
What to Expect: Fantasy, adventure, mythology.
Alessia has always known that she is different: from her pale skin and her weird ability to experience the feelings of others to her inability to fit in at any of the schools she has attended. But it isn’t until she explores the seaside town her mother once came from that she finds out just how different she really is. A strange siren call beckons her under the water and she discovers the long-lost city of Atlantis. She becomes its newest returning citizen, taking up the mantle left to her by her long-dead father and mother. All is not as it seems in Atlantis, however, and soon Alessia will find herself drawn into a dangerous rebellion against the tyrannical Atlantean Emperor.
Imaginative and colorful, Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial is a page-turner from the very first moment. Building on the well-known legends of the lost city of Atlantis and global myths about underwater supernatural creatures, the novel spins a fast-paced adventure with whimsical details that bring to mind steam-punk and science fiction for older readers. The story is dark in some places, touching on issues of social discrimination, poverty, and ethnic cleansing, but there is also a great deal of humor and hope, making the novel fun and stimulating to read. Alessia herself is a believable and likable character, and readers are sure to sympathize with her fumbles and discoveries as she explores her new world. Alessia in Atlantis: The Forbidden Vial is an enjoyable read that is perfect for lovers of fantasy and science fiction.