What an absolutely refreshing adventure, both for children and adults. Sami Winter, having the kind of bad Summer so many children of our time can understand, finds that whatever the adults do, she can decide for herself what's right - for her, for the world she leaves behind to enter the magical world of Atheron, and especially for the distracted grown ups. While Granddad Harper frets about his prize cabbage photo making the local papers, and her parents forget the "not in front of the children" rule, she gets on with the business of restoring good magic with her merry band Trezuget, Troy (clearly the big sister she never had), Bear (the most ironic and un-twee kind you'll find in a children's book), Owl (Irish and loyal to the end) and the unforgetable Professor Funnel (ruddy cheeks and ruddy funny).
A long way from a standard "child, wizards, magic" novel, The Train That Never Came manages to sprinkle adventure dust as you turn the pages, creating vivid characters with flaws and strengths that make for a "will they pull it off" suspense from the begining. It addresses too the challenges of a pre-teen in the midst of changes around her in the family, at school and in herself. These themes, worked seamlessly into a fantasy novel that breathes life into the old "wizard gig", make for a sensitive and relevant secondary theme that makes you fall in love with Sami Winter again and again. I'm a Sami convert, with or without the pigtails she bravely chops off, and can't wait for the second in the trilogy. Read it, read it to your kids.