The Traveling Restaurant: A Cosy Little Story of Revolution

I picked this book up entirely on a whim. I noticed Barbara Else, the author, was from New Zealand, a country I have a certain affection for, and the quote from the book on the interior cover made it sound interesting, so I thought "What the heck?" In the end, although the book wasn't my favorite, it was interesting enough.

"The Traveling Restaurant"'s main character is Jasper, a twelve year old boy who has been forced by his family to pretend to be ten. Fontania, his country, is ruled by the dictatorial Lady Gall, the Provisional Ruler who seized control several years earlier when a mysterious accident eliminated both the legitimate royal family and all traces of magic (so much so that even talking about magic is forbidden). When Jasper witnesses Lady Gall trying to poison his toddler-aged sister Sibillia, his parents suddenly decide they need to flee the city. However, in the confusion Jasper is left behind, and has to beg for a berth on the titular "Traveling Restaurant," a mysterious ship with a restaurant on board crewed by the mysterious Captain Rocket and Polly. As the story proceeds, Jasper discovers many secrets about himself, his family, the accident that led to Lady Gall seizing power, and the possibility that Jasper himself might be a critical part in fixing the world.

The main issue with this story is its pacing. At times, the story seems to be stalling around for something to happen, and at others things race along so fast I feel like I must have missed something. The fact that almost everyone who turns up in the story ends up linked to Jasper in some way, and often it seems like characters will suddenly reveal something they logically should have 5 to 10 chapters earlier strained my suspension of disbelief more than it should have.

The story is told in a cozy voice that simultaneously undercuts any menace or threat that might be facing Jasper et al and makes for a relatively readable experience. All of the main characters are likable (even when Else seems to be intentionally vague as to who they actually are and what their true motives might be), and I was rooting for them throughout the story. The Traveling Restaurant itself is an interesting location, even though after the first third of the book is over the fact that it's a boat modified into a restaurant doesn't really matter any more.

In the end, I'm not really sure what to say about "The Traveling Restaurant." It's not terrible, but it wasn't particularly inspiring. It's a comfortable read, but not one I would seek out. If it sounds interesting, you may want to check it out of your local library.

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