This is my second Eva Ibbotson book of the year. The first was The Star of Kazan, which I liked although I found the pacing a bit off. I found this book, The Secret of Platform 13, in a double-book special at my favorite used bookstore; it also includes Ibbotson's book Island of the Aunts. I decided to give it a try since I enjoyed the plot of Kazan so much. I'm happy to report that the pacing problem isn't an issue in this book.
The Secret of Platform 13 is about a mystical secret land called "The Island," which has creatures such as mermaids, hags, harpies, mistmakers, ogres, and wizards. The Island can be reached through Platform 13 in England. You can only pass between the two realms for the period of exactly nine days, which comes only once every nine years. When the story opens, the platform is open, and the infant prince of the Island is taken through the opening by his nannies who want to visit England. The prince is stolen by a snobby, vapid debutante who longs for a baby of her own. When the nine-day opening is over, the nannies have to return to the Island to report to the King and Queen that their son has been stolen and cannot be retrieved for at least the next nine years. The novel picks up again nine years later when the platform opens again, and a group of "rescuers" have been chosen to go through the opening to bring home the prince, who has lived his whole life having no idea he is a member of the royalty in a land he doesn't even know exists.
This is a great little story with wonderfully painted characters and a great setting. Judging from the two books I've read, Ibbotson is a master at creating whimsical atmospheres for her stories. Definitely perfect for kids, but completely enjoyable for adults, as well. As a half-way intelligent 23-year-old, I will admit that I figured out the plot twist by about the fifth chapter, but it really didn't take away from the story for me. I knew what was coming at the end, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the book. It's a great combination of reality and fantasy, since parts of the story take place in both worlds. There's a sense of familiarity when the "normal" people of England are discussed, but as soon as the book switches to the adventures of the rescuers and all of their powers and spells, you're immediately sucked into a great fantasy world.
I will say, though, that there are some striking similarities between this book and The Star of Kazan. Both involve infants being raised by people who are not their parents, and thus people not being who they say they are. Both involve an elaborate rescue plot. Both, for some reason, involve musical instruments playing a major role in the rescue mission (which I think is a completely random thing to have in common). There are a lot more, but I don't want to ruin any of the book. It was weird, but I suppose a lot of childrens' writers find a formula that works and they stick to it. I'm OK with it, but I did think some of them were a little eerie.
Slight sidenote: There are a ton of people reviewing this on Amazon calling this book a Harry Potter wanna-be, and an equal number of people screaming about how this book was written way before Harry Potter. The latter is definitely a valid point. Not having read the first word of a Harry Potter book, I'm not at liberty to say what their similarities are, but I do know the basic premise of Harry Potter, and I have to say, I don't really see any reason for the comparison. But just in case you're thinking the same thing, it is important to know that this was written pre-Potter explosion. Just throwing that out there.
I would certainly recommend this to a reader of any age, and I would encourage you to put Eva Ibbotson on your list of authors to look for when you're perusing the bookstore.
Read from December 22, 2010 to December 26, 2010