THE SILVER ARROW
By Lev Grossman
It’s Kate’s 11th birthday, and what she desires greater than the rest on this planet is to really feel particular and crucial. To a child within the mundane 21st century — her mother and father are workaholics, and he or she’s tired of “child issues” and “actual life” — it is a tall order, not less than till her loopy Uncle Herbert exhibits up with an uncommon birthday current loaded on a double-wide flatbed truck: the Silver Arrow, a steam practice (or not less than its engine and a coal automobile), which he drops onto tracks he’s arrange within the yard, main someplace unknowable.
Just like Norton Juster’s phantom tollbooth, this mysterious mode of transport is the proper automobile for a heroine’s aspirations. When Kate’s mother and father object to coach tracks the place their shade backyard was purported to go, she remembers her private hero, the pc programmer Grace Hopper, saying that “typically it’s higher to ask forgiveness than permission.”
She and her youthful brother, Tom, clamber on board and assume the position of conductors on a visit that appears straightforward at first — once they attain a rail yard they’re inspired to ask for no matter they need and want: automobiles containing books, sweet, a swimming pool, along with passenger, eating and sleeping automobiles. (Solely Tom’s requests for swords, weapons and electronics go unheeded.) However quickly they’re touring by way of redwood forests, over desert tundras and deep beneath the ocean.
Kate has newfound accountability. It’s not nearly sprucing the brass fittings; as conductor, she should discover gasoline when it runs low, quell disputes between passengers (extra on who they’re later) and face her personal mortality. She as soon as wished for a zombie apocalypse or alien invasion so she may “triumph towards all the chances and save all people.” Now she understands maturity’s burdens.
The identical pleasant sort of style deconstruction that animates Grossman’s younger grownup “Magicians” trilogy is at work in “The Silver Arrow.” “He didn’t actually say blazes, however you’ll be able to’t put the phrase he did say in a e book for kids,” is the narrator’s cheeky apart after Kate’s father swears at Uncle Herbert. The e book for kids through which we discover this apart is an eco-fable that addresses a severe world disaster (local weather change, although the time period is rarely used) with whimsy: It’s simpler to get youngsters concerned with theoretical scientific ideas should you allure them with speaking animals. Which brings us to these passengers.
The vacationers Kate’s practice collects are displaced wild creatures ready to be relocated someplace secure. Many are endangered or have been pushed out of their habitats: a fishing cat whose mangrove swamp was drained to construct a resort, a white-bellied heron whose river was dammed to make an influence plant, a half-drowned polar bear whose ice platform has all however melted. As weeks go, these anthropomorphic refugees educate the kids on widespread planetary injury executed by people. Kate feels deep disgrace on behalf of her species, and but the passengers don’t despise her or humanity. “The world has misplaced its previous steadiness, nevertheless it’s not too late. It may nonetheless discover a new one,” the heron tells her.
Like Grossman’s “Magicians” protagonist, Quentin Coldwater, Kate possesses each a gnawing dissatisfaction with the actual world and a romantic notion of the way it must be. However whereas in “The Magicians” magic supplies sad folks with a means out, in “The Silver Arrow” it exhibits Kate she needn’t escape right into a fantasy world when there’s extra rewarding work to be executed on this one than she’d ever imagined. The practice may be extraordinary, however Kate is a standard woman with a job to do. It could not contain battling a zombie apocalypse, nevertheless it’s fairly shut.