There are so many fantasy novels being written for middle grade and young adult readers that have dystopian themes, that I generally avoid them. I was intrigued, however by Marie’s Atlas, by Sophia Estelle Wood, a book that promised “mathematical wits and a virtuous character.” Plus, I admit, I loved the cover.
Marie is the only daughter of scientists who work on archeological digs. She’s a brilliant girl, in love with math, puzzles, and nature. Her parents move around from project to project so Marie is a loner and home-schooled. In Marie’s Atlas, her parents are working in a desert. Marie has always helped out when her parents find “puzzles” that can’t be solved:
“When she was three years old her mother found her in the closet with a box of unidentified bone fragments that the team had given up on. Marie had fully assembled the fragments into bones with preschool glue. Everyone was so amazed that they started to give her some of the difficult pieces to see if she could make sense of them. Every single puzzle (or “job”) was solved with her nimble fingers, acute mind, and peaceful patience. From that time on, Marie’s nickname was “Arti,” which was short for “Bone Articulator.” Instead of having to hire someone to piece fragments together, Marie had filled the position at a young age to formulate ancient creatures’ bones into coherent structures.”
The novel opens with her biggest job yet. Her parents have found a mysterious box, an impossible artifact from the era they are studying. Inside it are 987 pieces that all look identical.
“Marie was a girl of exceptional sensory perception. It was both a blessing and a curse. At times it seemed like noises, light, or people could be overwhelming. Other times a texture, taste, or sound could be complete serenity. Sitting in the quiet of her room, feeling dime-sized pieces of bone and thinking through the textures, colors, and shapes was a time of serenity, a time of peace.”
What she discovers is that the 987 pieces equal a Fibonacci number.
Marie is able to put together the pieces and finds herself in possession of an enchanted egg. It releases the power of the entity Atlas who bestows wings upon Marie, and demands she take a quest on which the fate of a whole universe depends.
Her adventures and victories depend not only on her mathematical prowess, but also on virtues including cooperation, courage, detachment, peace and trust.
The adventures are engaging and the story is compelling. Worlds depend on the way Marie makes her way through her adventure. The narration includes what could have happened if Marie had not solved the problems laid before her, but the story doesn’t dwell in despair. It underscores how using her intelligence and instinct, Marie can conquer whatever challenges lay ahead of her. She must also learn to trust Atlas, and the personality that emerges from their union. To me it read like a metaphor for learning to trust one’s self, and the inner guides or intuition we’re all born with.
When I finished reading this, I found out the sequel had just become available. In Cosmos Ignites, Marie and Atlas meet at the ocean and they must take on more tests of character, as well as put to use Marie’s knowledge of fractals, physics, and chemistry.
Meteor pieces with mysterious chemical properties has been discovered in the ocean. When Marie sees them, she feels the presence of Atlas within them. After figuring out how they all fit together, Atlas arrives and the magic begins again.
“She felt her body turn into a beam of particles and shoot across space and time…. She opened her eyes as she reconstituted and realized that she was completely submerged in water. Marie had to adjust to not breathing air.”
She and Atlas merge together as the personality Cosmos and are on a mission with 3 compass coins that become tattoos on Marie’s arm. She must figure out the meaning and use of elements through riddles and pass 5 tests of virtue.
The adventure is taken with grace, humor and suspense.
Both of these books are compelling and would be excellent reads for those interested in mathematical theories, and for those who are pretty sure most math is useless in their lives. While none of us will go on adventures as dramatic as Marie’s trials, the books integrate math, physics, and chemistry into the story in a way that makes her knowledge exciting and enviable.
Not quite practical math, it’s more like fantastical math that adds the element of play that most mathematical teaching doesn’t have. Maybe we should coin a word like “mathmagical” for it. I know I learned a lot and enjoyed the fascinating stories, as well as the charming illustrations.
Sophia Estelle Wood is an author and artist in Salem, Oregon. She has a passion for creativity, mathematics, photography, and art. She ties in her experiences as an engineer, mathematician, artist, and children’s virtue educator into her work. Her goal is to produce educational and character enriching content for her readers. The website for her books is here. They are available both in print and as ebooks.
Thanks for reading my blog and may you have a mathmagical day.