Sixteen-year-old Ethan is a lonely and beaten-up teenager, living in a small village in Switzerland. He is disconnected from his parents, hates his life, and escapes in his hidden dream world – the old ruins. One day, he gets a mysterious invitation to join what seems to be an educational train built to create ‘new world leaders’. Ethan reluctantly accepts.
From the moment he steps on the StudyTrain, something happens to him. He meets people he admired and likes, and that like him! Lord Althulos, guardian of the train and headmaster of the school, is the father figure Ethan never had. All seems peacefully and quietly going his way, as if the odds have turned.
Pretty soon, Ethan discovers the wonders of the 500-year old train. The Delivery Room in particular, where all the knowledge of the world and of all the previous students-now-world-leaders is saved, opens Ethan’s eyes.
What I would say:
As a first, I've given this book two ratings. I realise this might seem bizarre because I've given it a rating for my appreciation of the book that is line with other books I have read and enjoyed recently. However, objectively, this book is aimed at someone slightly younger and I didn't want to give the impression that this book wouldn't be great for them or that I didn't enjoy it. Obviously this is where the old rating system is somewhat flawed because a reviewer could always say "It's a 1 from me but I'm sure other people might think it's a 5...". So I shall explain...
The premise of this story is not too dissimilar to Harry Potter in that Ethan is marginalised and lost before being taken to a magical education establishment and taken under the wing of a benevolent 500-year-old (and please don't crucify me for not knowing how old Dumbledore is!). While the comparison is an obvious one, the book is distinct enough that it doesn't feel like an imitation, just nicely reminiscent.
The good vs. evil theme is as prevalent as ever but what is rather unique for a book aimed at a teenage audience (I think...) about this book is that this time-old battle is waged within one character (Ethan) as he tries to decide whether to use his newly discovered powers for good or to succumb to the Dark Fire Inside. The Untouchables attempting to lead Ethan astray lend a much needed darkness to the book and break up the Malory-Towers-esque boarding school feel brilliantly. It was probably the bad guys that actually drove the story on so quickly and so well! One minor point was that Ethan himself could be a tad petulant but that will probably resonate perfectly with an angsty youth!
My favourite thing about the book was that, as with HP, the book implies that all this could be going on right under our very noses (or indeed above our very heads) and is perfectly lovely in all its magicality. The StudyTrain also takes credit for the successes of a host of historical figures, Martin Luther King Jr by way of example, and educates the 'chosen' in becoming such great political inspirations and leaders. I really enjoyed that aspect although I'm sure conspiracy theorists would have a field day!
The book is complete as an isolated novel but obviously leaves the way clear for one or more sequels. I would probably pick the sequels up since the book really didn't take very long to read but, as I said, I'd be more likely to buy them for an unsuspecting teenager and then force them to tell me all about it....vicarious reading is ok, right?
Overall: This is a light read that I would definitely recommend to a teenager (if I knew any well enough!) - it's fun and full of action and intrigue and great for a "light bite".