When I first heard the premise of LD Lapinski’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency, I felt the tingles that always preclude an astonishingly good book, but I was quite unprepared for just how much this book has grasped my heart and imagination. There is something incredibly special about this book that is lodged halfway between the contemporary and the fantastical.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency ticks the expected middle grade fantasy tropes, the lonely child finding out they are special, gateways or portals to another role and magical peril and mystery.
But there is something fizzing and bubbling behind the familiar, and indeed a particular nirvana for the geeky reader who loves everything from Dr Who to Star Wars to Bedknobs and Broomsticks to Pratchett, it draws you in and cocoons you in a bubble of wonder and leaves you wanting more and more.
Flick’s family have moved from the city to a new build estate in a quiet suburban village, but life at home is not as tranquil. Her baby brother demands not just her mother’s time but her own assistance and money has always been tight meaning Flick has had to care for herself more than her peers did… she feels perhaps like the grey wash of being an adult has already muted her world.
But when she stumbles upon the Strangeworlds Travel Agency tucked away in the village centre she discovers the world does indeed glitter with magic and with her new friend Jonathan she discovers there is a multiverse of worlds out there to discover… all by stepping into the different cases created by his ancestor.
But of course, adventures are not that simple…
When I was a child, Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree was possibly my favourite book and still possibly one of my favourite magical ideas. The Strangeworlds Travel Agency has certain flavours of the Magic Faraway Tree but brought completely up to date, with real relatable characters, a deeper more pronounced approach to world building and a unashamedly geekyness that makes this certainly a book that adults can enjoy as much as children, indeed it has many lessons for the ‘grown up’ within or without as Flick rediscovers the childhood she has suppressed thanks to her family situation.
It’s got everything including little epistolary sections from the Society handbook, do you have any idea how much I love epistolary sections? Inner child Lily is literally squeeing like Pinky Pie everytime we get to any of these little asides giving insight into the Strangeworlds Society.
The dynamic between the Giles meets the 10th Doctor Jonathan and the reluctant to believe but hopeful Flick and how that dynamic turns and twists across the book is just perfection from the reveals of Jonathan’s past paring him back to a core truth and the quiet revolution of Flick is ingenious.
A particularly wonderful section was when Jonathan and Flick encounter the Fae-like beings, not just because of the Faery factor with the rules and etiquette to survive and the little insight into Jonathan’s hidden playful side but I was first thrilled with little references to Return of the Jedi but also the delightful tribute to Hook towards the end of the chapter which is an absolute joy!!!!
This is not the only world that has nods of cult tv, film or literature, from the Thieves’ Guild of Ankh Morpork to the Crystal forests of Avatar there is something that will touch the heart and fire the imagination of fans of many worlds, of any age.
I say this with utter JOY and respect that a book can make you smile and bubble with joy, make you feel like a child again seeing, resonating with and experiencing that beloved reference as if for the first time thorough Flick’s story, that is a wonderful gift. Indeed, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency drew me out of my slump brought on by world events, the book that reached past the gloom, immersed me in imagination and brought me back.
I know this book has power, is positively fizzing with imagination and wonder, it’s the kind of book my childhood self NEEDED.
I could totally see child Lily reading this book to tatters, dragging out suitcases from wardrobes and peeking inside, clambering in and dreaming of being transported to magical worlds and wonders. I certainly would have spent hours writing my own adventures in scrawled joyous hand and at any opportunity peered down quiet lanes to see if I can spot my own Strangeworlds Society Outpost; imagining, hoping, celebrating the tales, the joy and the magic entwining around my heart and into my very soul… and I hope all hopes that when Littlefae and Tinyfae read it, the story will evoke those feelings too.
This book is so special you MUST read it.
The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by LD Lapinski is published by Orion.
I was lucky enough to win a proof in a Twitter competition, thank you so much Lucy!! I have since ordered a final copy to treasure alongside because this book is intensely special 💜
Images thanks to Unsplash.com as my final copy has not arrived to reference quotes against!