I was seven years old when I first read The Secrets of Droon books. I remember specifically because we bought them for the family road trip from California to Walt Disney World right before my eighth birthday, which we spent there in Florida. Very much an avid reader then and reading at a level higher than my age would have typically suggested, I recall being thoroughly pleased with myself for having read four of these books in what amounted to only a few hours. It was the first time I had ever done so.
As I look back on it now, what had once appeared to me an amazing feat really just seems like a reasonable event.
Rereading The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet by Tony Abbott was an interesting experience. While I have the ability to look back on the story and characters fondly, as an adult with much more experience and knowledge of writing, plot, and character development I find that this book is severely lacking. But, is that a bad thing? As a child, I enjoyed it. I devoured these books. They were fun and full of adventure. They made me eager to read more.
I guess what it all comes down to is where we place the merit for novels that we read. And for a children’s book, this one is actually pretty great. It’s a fast read, so kids who struggle to sit for long periods of time could benefit. It’s got exciting moments and there are definitely some high stakes. That said, when analyzing it from plot and character development points of view, this book kind of sucks?
This book is basically the equivalent of a 30-minute children’s show. It actually kind of reminds me a little of Dragon Tales. You have the kids who find a magical way to get into a different world, they spend some time there and kind of solve a problem, then they go home. I can’t personally recall if that’s how the rest of the series goes, but I feel pretty confident in saying that I’d place my bets there rather than anywhere else. The book was basically 1/10 of a plot that Abbott decided he could break into multitudes.
The best thing this book has going for it is the fact that there’s a lot of action. It’s engaging for young readers and you never really feel like you’re being bogged down by pointless, dull, or dragging moments. And honestly, for young readers who struggle to remain engaged, this is a great thing. Of course, the action is still very rushed, keeping in line with that 30-minute episode thought. Everything happens painfully fast (how big is this kingdom supposed to be again?) and you don’t get a second of downtime for anything.
Also, the mysterious secret code, while easy for adults to decipher, is actually pretty great for young readers.
Put simply, you do not get to know the characters at all. I couldn’t tell you anything about them past a few very simple characteristics that I’m sure the author will play up as the series continues. What’s worse is that I couldn’t tell you anything about the main character, Eric, other than the fact that his mom expects him to clean the whole basement for some reason and that he likes Princess Keeah. He’s insanely bland but he’s also the hero, so he’s motivated to do heroic things.
Keeah is at least a little more interesting, thankfully. She’s on the run from Ninns–which are basically orcs that ride lizards, I guess?–who work for the evil Lord Spaar (why is he evil? I have no idea. I guess just because he wants to take over the castle and gain power). She’s a quick thinker with a fighting spirit. But, that’s about it.
Neal is…reckless? I think that’s his personality quirk. And he likes soccer.
I honestly don’t know if I could tell you a single thing about Julie, though. This is kind of sad considering she’s one of two main female characters surrounded by men. The only other female character in this whole book is Eric’s mom who we get to see for all of two minutes of reading. But honestly, you could remove her entirely and I don’t think it’d even make a difference.
There’s also absolutely no development for any of the characters. Though, to be fair, there’s not really time for it. Considering this book is only 96 pages long and does action so well, there’s not a whole lot of time for it. Hopefully, this doesn’t continue throughout the rest of the books in the series.
I don’t think it’s terribly bad. I don’t think it’s particularly good, either, but at least it has some merit. And while I won’t say that these books were life-changing for me–I had a great many books for that–they were still books that I recall truly enjoying from my childhood. It’s a quick read, it’s something young and especially reluctant readers will do well with. In essence, I think The Secrets of Droon is an excellent starting point for reading. And that’s that.