The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck

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The Lost Cities: A Drift House Voyage by Dale Peck

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Magda Healey
Reviewed by Magda Healey
Summary: This very imaginative, vivid and well written time-travel story has a good adventure plot & well portrayed characters and sibling relationships, sprinkled with some social and moral musings. Slightly over-complicated and probably better read in sequence after part 1 of the series, it will still work for lovers of the fantastic aged 10 and above.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 416 Date: August 2007
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 978-0747578789

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Susan, Charles and Murray are New Yorker children send after the 9/11 for a holiday with their uncle Farley in Canada. Farley lives in a mysterious ship-like floating house which sails on the Sea of Time rather than the more usual Atlantic. In the second instalment of the Drift House Chronicles Susan and Charles return to Uncle Farley's house for another summer. Soon the Drift House is washed out onto the Sea of Time with Susan and Farley on board, while Charles is stuck in a tree with a talking parrot called President Wilson and a mysterious, powerful book. The adventure will take them to Huron Indians and the Greenland Vikings, the World Trade Centre and the Tower of Babel, with appearances by flying carpets, the Trojan Horse and people turning into pure light.

The whole universe of Charles' and Susan's adventure is really rather wonderful. The idea of the Drift House, moored in the Bay of Eternity someplace in Canada, and able to sail on the Sea of Time; the Time Pirates and the Island of the Past, the Returners living multiple lives in the coiling and twisting time - all this is original, magical, enchanting and draws the reader in. The imagery is persuasive and despite the welcome absence of elaborate description, the settings are evoked in a plausible and vivid way.

I also liked the psychological realism of the Lost Cities: the sibling relationships must strike a chord with anybody who's ever suffered being literally belittled as a younger brother or sister, and the underlying love despite all the major and minor annoyances is genuine and heartfelt.

It's a novel pitched rather firmly at the pre-adolescent mindset, despite Susan being 13 years old: what the psychoanalysts call the latency period between the fundamentally pleasure seeking, animal-like babies/small children and sexually awakening adolescents. In this way it is similar to the children's classics like the Narnia series, where the development of morality and relationships with the peers take on increasing importance.

he plot is busy and despite reasonable page counts, a lot happens, and some scenes reach breathtaking levels of drama.

And yet, there is something missing from The Lost Cities. While quite exciting when being read, the book didn't have the magical pull that would compel the reader to pick it up again at the next opportunity. Despite clearly differentiated, sympathetic characters, I wasn't that bothered about what happened to them. And all that excellent imagery seemed at times a little wasted.

Yes, there was an underlying message or moral about the human nature and about ecology of civilisations and cultures, but that felt tacked on artificially: it didn't permeate the whole story but had to spelled out at the end. And some of the complexities of the time-twisted plot distracted rather then added from the enjoyment.

However, it has to be remembered that The Lost Cities is a part 2 of the Drift House series and as such should be probably read in sequence. I was able to enjoy the book as a stand alone, but I was often left wondering whether not having read the first instalment was the reason why I felt at times overwhelmed by the time-travelling paradoxes, all kinds of non-linearities and numerous devices and concepts popping up. As a stand alone, The Lost Cities gets 3.5 stars, though I suspect that those who have read the first book of the Drift House Chronicles would give it 4.

Recommended to those who like the premise, but with some caution and it would be probably better to start with the first volume.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for sending this to the Bookbag!

Another book in a similar spirit, though with no time travel is Charmed Life, while early Harry Potter books are pitched at similar audience.

The concept of the Lost Cities (or lost cultures in general), and particularly the diagnosis of the Vikings' demise in Greenland seems to owe a lot to the ideas presented in Jared Diamond's Collapse.

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