Thursday, March 14, 2013

Review: The Secret of Platform 13 by Eva Ibbotson

Title: The Secret of Platform 13
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Genre: Children's / Fantasy
Publisher: Puffin
Published: 1994
Pages: 231

Rating: 4 out of 10

I was browsing through a thrift store, and when I saw this short little children's book, I decided to read it right on the spot.
I remember seeing this book everywhere when I was a younger teenager, but for some reason I never ended up reading it. It was probably during the years that I refused to read anything but historical fiction and classics (which, I must admit, still sounds loosely similar to how things are today).

But anyways.

In The Secret of Platform 13, there is an Island somewhere (not really in our world, but kind of within it... it's never really said. But it's just somewhere else) in which there is a portal. This portal opens up every 9 years, and leads to a tube station in the London underground. One day, two nurses are taking the infant crown prince out for a stroll, and get tempted into the portal and into a sweets shop. They only let the baby out of their sight for a moment, but the prince has already been stolen by Mrs. Trottle, a snooty and dreadfully rich woman who decided on a whim one day that she wanted a baby.
Plans are made to go and recover the lost prince in 9 years when the portal opens up again.
A clever young hag named Odge convinces the queen to let her go along on the rescue mission, and a small troop of varied islands set out to find the lost prince and bring him home.

This book is written in a sort of detached, factual, stuffily funny sort of way that reminded me of the Lemony Snicket books.

I suppose it was alright, and I can't think of much to complain about, but I didn't ever enjoy the story, and my interest in finishing was halfhearted.

Some of the plot twists don't make much sense if you think about them. Why would the royal family not storm the Trottle's house to get the prince after their efforts to kindly get him out fail? They even have a formidable army waiting eagerly to do just that, but they keep holding off, for no apparent reason.
And the rescue party that the royal family sends out is not exactly the most promising of individuals. Ibbotson supports the underdog through-out the story, which is great, but it didn't make sense to send a ragtag group of average people on the most important journey in the Island's history. And they have been planning this for nine years, remember.
I know that this is a children's book, which partially why I'm not being so hard on it stretching the imagination a bit too much. But I believe that a good, strongly written children's book should stand up to adult skepticism and practicality. What you write has to make sense, whatever the target audience.

The story was very predictable and run-of-the-mill, and never surprised me. I guessed the secret about the prince the moment that Odge stepped onto the Trottle's lawn. Yawn.

Although I couldn't say I liked this book, there were some witty, memorable moments and phrases here and there. The fluffy creatures that create mist (so that the Island can never be found) were an unnecessary, but cute, touch. Instead of saying 'quick,' the author instead uses the words 'like greased lightning,' which for some reason stuck in my head.
And the one thing in the book I found genuinely funny were the prince's ex nurses, living in a dreadful cave to punish themselves. They have vowed to live as miserably as possible until the prince is found, which Odge discovers when she goes to visit them. I think this sentence, spoken from one nurse to another, explains it well enough: "The toast is not burnt enough, Lily. Go and burn it some more."

All in all though, I can't see why this book became so popular. Right after I read it, I found myself making apologies for it owing to the fact that it is a book written for children 9 - 12. But I've decided that that is no excuse - earlier this year I read Coraline and loved it. It's certainly possible to write strong, fascinating children's books that adult readers are able to enjoy as much as any other book. And in my opinion, this isn't one of them.