Rating – 4.5/5 stars
Overall – a lighthearted and quick read. It teaches a fun thing or two about physics along the way, but nothing too heavy to digress from the plot.
This book just may be the best book I’ve read all April. It’s perfect fare for a warm evening in the backyard, and an unorthodox way to learn all of those otherwise slightly mundane physics equations and laws. Indeed, The Train to Impossible Places: The Cursed Delivery by P. G. Bell serves up a five-star meal of fantasy, with a little fact for dessert. What struck me right away was Suzy, our dear physics-loving, spunky, inquisitive protagonist. She has it all: a big brain, a big heart, a love of physics, and a need to help others. Driven and determined, Suzy is everything I would like to think I am. She isn’t arrogant, isn’t shy to speak her mind, and she certainly isn’t afraid of jumping on a train that shouldn’t exist that is en route to places where magic is possible and gravity is optional. She may a little too perfect, but other than the fact that she doesn’t seem to have a crippling fatal flaw of some sort, she seems like an ordinary eleven-year-old girl. She’s relatable. All of the science nerds, all of the unpopular kids, all of the children who feel they don’t quite belong, all of the people (both over and under eighteen) who have taken a risk and reaped rewards because of it, all of them can relate to Suzy. This raises the subconscious question: Who is Suzy? The truthful answer would be, the readers themselves. There are two main kinds of protagonists: those who readers are given so many details that they feel like a living, breathing person with his or her own flaws and quirks; and those who are slightly … vague. P. G. Bell has chosen the latter for this story because Suzy isn’t just one unique person: she’s all of us, in a way, and the author has purposely left many loose ends and unanswered questions about Suzy’s background. That way, Suzy isn’t a parcel that’s been rolled up and tied off, ready to be received by the reader; she’s an open vase which readers can fill with their own passions and details.
However, the other characters featured in this book stand in stark contrast with Suzy: they are fully developed, each given their own interests, habits, and personalities. Each is described in clear detail, and are quite authentic. Many readers’ hearts will be touched by nervous, eager Wilmot and will be shocked to learn of smiling Lord Meridian’s treachery. And because this book is called The Train to Impossible Places, the author takes great care to create an authentic, vividly imagined world complemented by quirky little details such as the residential district of Trollville being located under a bridge in a nod to common fairytales such as “The Three Billy Goats Gruff”. The worlds are as full of vivid details as Kali Wallace’s City of Islands. A train powered by unstable nuclear fusion bananas . . . an inherent love of building and engineering in all trolls . . . powerful telescopes able to see anywhere in the Impossible Places . . . a boy named Frederick trapped in a snow globe … and most importantly, two towers to symbolize knowledge and strength. I especially think this last concept is beautiful because it echoes the thinking of many philosophers from many different cultures: that knowledge and strength should be regarded as the most potent magic of all, which in turn should be used to help weaker, less educated individuals. The Lady Crepuscula of the Obsidian Tower (of Strength) and the Lord Meridian of the Ivory Tower (of Knowledge) are rivals. Both have questionable intentions, those of one more questionable than the those of the other: With the help of Frederick, Suzy learns that Lord Meridian’s research project is actually an excuse to spy on all of the positions of power in the independently governed Impossible Places with plans to usurp the leaders one by one. The only thing standing in Lord Meridian’s takeover is Suzy and Frederick–and, apparently, the Lady Crepuscula, who doesn’t seem friendly but doesn’t want to see the Impossible Places fall to her misfit brother. What really fascinated me was the fact that P. G. Bell didn’t depict Lady Crepuscula as a hero. She may have more of an honor code than her brother, Suzy realizes, but she still is ruthless in achieving her goals. I find this nuanced depiction of flaws and strengths in Lady Crepuscula reminiscent somewhat of John Steinbeck’s writing style, who, as Peter Shaw said, neither made out the Californian valley where he set some of his fiction “a fanciful Eden” nor merely a force of destruction. This interesting use of non-stock characters adds a layer of mystery to the literature. Lastly, I think the author does an excellent job of adding a twist to the story by combining fact and fiction. This novel, while bursting to the brim with magic and spells, also features the physics equations. The heroine uses her brain and knowledge of physics multiple times to get The Impossible Express out of a tight spot or to increase the train’s speed. It’s an intriguing blend of magic and physics, and it almost shouldn’t work, yet it does. If I had to make one suggestion to improve the plot, I would wish that Ursel and Suzy interacted more with each other and more evidently became friends. With an intriguing science twist, this combination of The Chronicles of Narnia, The Land of Stories, and Septimus Heap is a fun romp through a world of oddball characters and magic. A lighthearted, humorous read, The Train to Impossible Places: A Cursed Delivery is warm, satisfying fare for any age, any time of the year.