The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency was written by L.D. Lapinski and first published in 2020. It is a middle grade fantasy story that focuses on a 12-year-old girl who discovers a way to travel to parallel dimensions. The novel forms the first part of a planned series, but at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

Felicity “Flick” Hudson is deeply unhappy. Her parents have just moved from the city to the small town of Little Wyverns and do not seem to have much time for her. All Flick wants to do is travel and see the world, but she’s stuck spending most of her time looking after her baby brother while her parents are working. Luckily for Flick, she soon stumbles across a mysterious travel agency which could give her everything that she has ever dreamed of.

Jonathan Mercator is only eighteen but has been single-handedly running The Strangeworlds Travel Agency since his father’s disappearance. Unlike regular travel agents, he curates a vast collection of suitcases which each contain a portal to another world. Magically gifted individuals are free to borrow a suitcase, so long as they report back on what they have discovered. Jonathan quickly realises that Flick is more than eligible to join their ranks.

While Flick and Jonathan’s early adventures seem harmless enough, they soon realise that something is wrong with the multiverse. The balance between worlds has been disrupted and all issues seem to be stemming from Five Lights – a city at the centre of it all. If they can’t find a way to fix Five Lights soon, the entire multiverse could collapse and destroy everything, including Flick’s world!

While the blurb of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency did leave me of two minds about reading this book, I am truly glad that I did. The novel has a bit of the feel of a Doctor Who episode, creating a creative and magical world that takes its young readers very seriously. Although the tale can be a little creepy in places, it’s still wholly appropriate for its target audience and is a story that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

The world-building in this novel was totally original, as all of Flick and Jonathan’s adventures were framed around a particularly timeless central hub. Although it is clear that the story is set in present day, it is easy to forget this as soon as Flick steps foot inside the travel agency, with its shelves of suitcases and various Victoriana.

The early chapters of the novel do a great job of setting the scene. While the opening chapter acts as a bit of a sting to acclimatise readers to the tone of the story, Flick is quick to find her way to the travel agency and begin to learn about how it works. These early chapters do a fantastic job of introducing how the magic system functions and allows the reader to see this in action as they accompany Flick on her first adventures. Each world that she visits is very different from the last, ranging from beautiful crystalline forests, to fantastical sweet shops, to abandoned shores.

The plot of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency was slow to build but did a great job of drawing the reader in. I loved the fact that Lapinski did not spoon-feed the reader, instead leaving clues as to what was ultimately going on peppered throughout the tale and leaving them to draw their own conclusions. While Flick’s early adventures are a lot of fun in their own right, the story really kicks off as she and Jonathan reach Five Lights and the true mystery takes hold.

My only real issue with The Strangeworlds Travel Agency was the way that it ended. I had not realised at first that this book was intended to form part of a series until I reached the climax and realised that there were a lot of questions left unanswered. The ultimate mystery regarding what has happened to Jonathan’s father is left unresolved, and many other loose threads are revealed in the final couple of chapters and then just left hanging. I suppose we will have to wait for the sequel to discover exactly what kind of threat the travel agency is supposed to be defending the multiverse from.

Yet, in terms of character, The Strangeworlds Travel Agency is excellent. Flick makes a wonderful protagonist, providing an imaginative every-man for readers to follow. She is brave and intelligent, but at the same time I loved the way that the novel addressed her feelings towards her family. While it frustrated me the way that her mother seems to use her as a free babysitter, I loved how Flick’s adventures caused her to view her parents in a new light and realise that they weren’t as horrible as she first thought.

Jonathan also made for a complex and sympathetic secondary protagonist. While I often forgot how young he was supposed to be (he did feel a lot older than eighteen in the way that he presented himself), he truly grew on me as the story progressed. I loved his eccentricities and the way that he became increasingly well-rounded as the story slowly revealed the hidden motivations behind his actions.

My only small issue with the characters was the story’s villains. The Thieves Guild in Five Lights are not introduced until very late in the tale but ultimately served as the novel’s antagonists. Unfortunately, this lack of focus on them caused them to make little impression on me. While I did like their creative names, I found it hard to distinguish between the individuals and their leader was not overly memorable. I’m not sure if we’ll be seeing these characters again but, if we do, I hope we learn more of where Glean originated from and how her powers work.

So, all in all, I really did enjoy The Strangeworlds Travel Agency. It’s creative, fast-paced and had a pair of wonderful protagonists. While it left a lot of loose threads hanging, I really can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel to find out where Lapinski intends to take them.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book from Amazon.co.uk

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