Thursday, August 13, 2020

Review: THE SILVER ARROW by Lev Grossman


Rating: 1.5/5 stars

I was looking forward to reading this book because I tend to love middle-grade adventure stories. They usually feel so carefree and magical to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the same about The Silver Arrow, and I ended up being very disappointed.

This book sort of feels like a mix of The Polar Express and The Chronicles of Narnia, but not done well. It honestly felt very contrived and forced, which really hindered my enjoyment of it.

The story starts out with rich Uncle Herbert gifting his niece Kate with a train—a real, metal, life-size train. Although her parents were initially upset about this gift, Kate and her brother Tom set out alone together on an adventure on this train, which is called the Silver Arrow.

I thought the beginning was very slow and weird. Just the fact that the uncle got her a real train for her birthday that he put in her backyard (like, what?) and the parents were angry but were still like, “Okay have fun playing in it,” rubbed me the wrong way for some reason. The story just felt very forced to me at that point, like Lev Grossman had a cool idea about two young kids getting lost on a magical train adventure but didn’t know how to actually introduce the train into the story so he invented a rich uncle to just hand-deliver it to them. That was not believable at all, and my absolute least favorite thing about any fictional story is when the story is not believable within the boundaries of its own world, and I felt like this book suffered from that at the very beginning.

So Kate and Tom go on this adventure and meet all kinds of talking animals, who tell them all about themselves. The Silver Arrow feels like an ecological novel for kids. Lev Grossman tells us about different animals from around the world and explains details like the animal kingdom hierarchy and what happens if it gets out of balance, what animals eat, what their habitats are, what they like to do, why they migrate, and why humans need to help preserve them from going extinct. 

This sounds like a cool concept, but honestly, the whole book felt very contrived to me, like Grossman’s hidden agenda was to indoctrinate children with the desire to make a good ecological impact on our planet. Now don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important to teach children (and adults) the importance of caring for animals and nature and protecting our planet, but I don’t like how that information was presented here. I felt like this whole concept took away from the actual plot of the book because every scene had to be paused so one animal could talk about their natural habitat or their predators or how human impact was harming them. It was very obvious, as an adult reader, what Grossman was trying to do here, and it put me off a lot. 

I honestly just felt really bored with this story. It was very slow-moving for how short it was and it had me rolling my eyes at some of the scenes in it. It read very young for its intended audience of kids ages 8 to 12, and it felt pretty silly to me at times. This seemed like a kind of story someone tells their young kids before bed but not one that was ever supposed to be published. That sounds kind of harsh but there are so many similar stories out there that are much more interesting and well-written, ones that communicate the same messages in a more natural and engaging way. I honestly don’t think if Lev Grossman was already a best-selling author that this book would have been published at all. 

Besides the aforementioned issues I had, I also thought that the writing was unimpressive and unenjoyable to read. Lev Grossman’s Magicians trilogy has been on my to-read list, but after reading this book, I honestly don’t know if I even want to read that series because the writing style in this book really got on my nerves and I suspect that what I didn’t like here will be present in his other works as well. 

I listened to the audiobook for The Silver Arrow and I thought the narrator, Simon Vance, was alright. Good but not great. The way his voice sounds when he narrates almost reminded me of a knock-off Jim Dale narration because of his British accent and the inflections he used to tell the story, and some of the character voices sounded similar to me. The story takes place in the modern-day but his voice made me feel like it was a story of the past. I particularly didn’t like how he narrated the adults at the beginning when the train gets introduced because they sounded whiny and strange to me. Eventually, I did feel like the narration got better as the story progressed, and I would listen to more books narrated by Simon Vance in the future, but he’s not my favorite narrator. 

The Silver Arrow has adventure, talking animals, magical trains, and lots of presumably factual ecological information. I would recommend this book for kids ages 5 to 8 who want an easygoing adventure on a magical train ride that will teach them real facts about all kinds of animals from around the world, as well as teach them how to be more eco-conscious. 

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