Review of The Silver Arrow

The Silver Arrow
by Lev Grossman
Intermediate    Little, Brown    320 pp.    g
9/20    978-0-316-54170-1    $18.99
e-book ed.  978-0-316- 53952-4    $9.99

After writing to her rich uncle to cheekily request a present for her eleventh birthday, Kate is surprised when a full-sized locomotive shows up the next day. Resolved to get as much enjoyment out of it as possible before their mother makes Uncle Herbert remove it, Kate and her little brother Tom examine it before supper, and an offhand wish on Kate’s part makes the train embark on what is obviously a magical adventure. Learning the train’s ways (the sentient engine can communicate via slips of paper), Kate and Tom thrill to their new lives as magical train conductors, taking on the work of delivering talking animals to their migratory destinations, each with a ticket clamped in its jaws. Grossman, whose droll turns of phrase continuously enliven the story, adroitly captures the practical yet yearning inner voice of Kate while loading the narrative with feasts-in-Narnia-level gratifications for readers: Kate and Tom request (and receive) a candy car for the train, spend a season as T. H. White–inspired trees, and encounter a baby pangolin who enchants all parties with its infant cuteness. But Grossman, author of the popular Magicians trilogy for adults, refuses to provide the escape that fantasy so often supplies, introducing human answerability with environmental degradation, a starving polar bear, and invasive species. Still, Kate and Tom’s extraordinary adventure fulfills enough reader wishes that most won’t mind ingesting a few vegetables along with this scrumptious fantasy confection.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Anita L. Burkam
Anita L. Burkam
Horn Book reviewer Anita L. Burkam is former associate editor of The Horn Book Magazine.

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