Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Secret of Platform 13 Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Eva Ibbotson
Publisher: Puffin
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Series: Standalone
Pages: 231

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Is This Where Harry Potter Came From?

Set in modern day England, The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson chronicles the story of a group of magical creatures’ attempt to rescue the prince of their land. Ibbotson writes a fairytale styled kids story here, with well developed characters, and she even throws in a few emotional charged moments as well. This is a family book that I could easily see adults enjoying, too.

There exists an island that is an opulent paradise that is filled with mythological creatures.  It remains hidden from the world due to mistmakers, animals that create mist when they hear music. The island can be accessed during a time span of nine days once every nine years through a portal called the gump which resides near platform 13 in King’s Cross Station.

The king and queen of the island realize their dream and give birth to a baby prince. While still an infant, the prince’s three nannies take him to London where he is abducted by a greedy wealthy lady named Mrs. Trottle.  As the portal closes the island kingdom selects a wizard, a giant, a fey, and a hag to rescue him when the portal reopens nine years later.  However, being under the care of Mrs. Trottle during those nine years turns the island’s prince into someone no one was expecting.

I decided to read this book after I read about how the magical world was accessed in Ibbotson’s story … a magical world accessed at a platform in King’s Cross Station?

Sound familiar?

Published in 1994, The Secret of Platform 13 came out three years before J.K. Rowling first published The Sorcerer’s Stone. (For those who haven’t read Harry Potter he gains access to the magical school of Hogwarts by traveling through the wall at platform 9¾ in King’s Cross Station). I will say Harry Potter and the Secret of Platform 13 tell two very different stories: Harry Potter is a detective styled fantasy series, while The Secret of Platform 13 is a fairytale styled rescue story. However, I won’t be able to help but raise my eyebrow at platform 9¾ from now on. There is little doubt as to where Rowling got the idea from.

Ibbotson’s major characters are the strongest part of the book. Raymond Trottle, the young boy that Mrs. Trottle says is her son, and is also the boy the mythological island creatures are trying to rescue, is anything but ideal. Keeping with the Harry Potter references, Raymond resembles a much more spoiled Dudley Dursley. Ibbotson does an excellent job of making readers hate Raymond, and she provides a number of interesting situations as the rescuers are torn between their oaths to the king and queen of the island and helping a child they detest.

One of Mrs. Trottle’s young servants, a cooking boy, named Ben resembles Harry Potter.  He is kind, and warm hearted, and he is mistreated by the cruel Mrs. Trottle much like Harry was mistreated by the Dursleys.  Out of the rescuers it’s the hag Odge who makes the biggest impression.  Odge is Ben and Raymond’s age, except she’s hideous, but she feels she has to prove she’s not a disappointment to her parents.

I can’t help but notice how the mist covered islands also resemble the setting to Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn novels.  In this case that’s where the comparison stops.  The mistmaker, a rodent/dog like creature is a great fantasy creation.  A cuddly cute creature that’s addicted to music and makes mist … I got on board with that.

The pacing is quick, and it’s easily a book that an adult could read in a day. My biggest complaint is the ending is very predictable, I’m pretty sure most children will even be able to figure it out no more than half way through the story. Some of the minor characters also blend into the background. Nevertheless, this was an enjoyable reading experience.

Score: 8.6

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