The Lost Property Office: Section 13, Book 1

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
The Lost Property Office:  Section 13, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Action, suspense fuel steampunk fantasy set in London.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Facts and history about London's Great Fire in 1666, including excerpts from eyewitness diaries but blended with fantasy elements like a magical cause. A few simple French phrases not translated. London history, geography, and places of interest. Some facts about Samuel Pepys.

Positive Messages

Never give up. Trust what your senses are telling you. Treasure isn't always silver and gold. Powerful people always want more power.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack (13) carefully thinks back and remembers to solve problems. He wants to learn new things and take action but also realizes he's still a kid and needs his parents, too. Gwen (12) is very knowledgeable, practical, and quick-thinking. She's loyal and supportive to Jack but is sometimes impatient when he's slow to figure something out. All of Jack's family model strong bonds of loyalty and family unity.

Violence & Scariness

Fights and peril from magical elements and fantasy creatures like mechanical beetles. Jack's being blackmailed to bring the villain a magical artifact on time or else his father will be killed. Pain and blood rarely mentioned and not described in detail. A hand is cut off with a sword. Jack and his mother deal with Shaw, a 16-year-old who might betray them, by hitting Shaw with a staff to knock him down and zapping him with a stun gun so he's unconscious. Descriptions of the Great Fire of 1666 briefly describe houses and buildings burning, loss of life, and women and children shrieking. Jack is separated from his family for most of the story but there's a safe resolution. Some scary wraiths and skeletons seen in visions.

Language

Gwen calls Jack a "wally" many times, which is British slang for someone who's smart in some ways but dense in others.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Lost Property Office is the first of a planned fantasy series with a dash of steampunk about a secret society of detectives who track down magical artifacts. Violence is infrequent, not gory, and all but once involves fantasy creatures or magical elements. (The exception is when an older teen is knocked to the ground and zapped with a stun gun to make sure he won't betray the heroes.) Scariness is mostly from tension and suspense, although the Great Fire of 1666 is described, and wraiths and skeletons appear in visions. All of Jack's family model strong bonds of loyalty and family unity. Jack, 13, and Gwen, 12, work well together, blush a few times when they get physically close, and there's one kiss on the cheek.

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What's the story?

Jack's search for his missing father soon leads him and little sister Sadie into THE LOST PROPERTY OFFICE, where it's clear something peculiar is going on. Jack learns that his father's been kidnapped, and to save his father he's only got a day to find and then bring the magical Ember to Big Ben by midnight. To make it in time he'll have to fend off mechanical beetles, learn how to work with apprentice clerk Gwen, discover the truth about his family's past, and foil the villainous Clockmaker.

Is it any good?

Veteran thriller author James R. Hannibal puts his talents to good use as he turns to younger readers with this fantasy debut full of action, suspense, and a dash of steampunk for good measure. Clever problem-solving, intriguing and spooky glimpses into London's past, and quirky-but-relatable heroes keep the pages of The Lost Property Office turning just as much as during the tense and taut action sequences. Real-life locations like the London Underground are as skillfully evoked as the delightfully mysterious fantasy locations like the Ministry.

Tweens and middle schoolers looking for fast-paced excitement along with their magical, clockwork fantasy will enjoy this series kickoff, and eagerly await the next installment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how The Lost Property Office shows that Jack and his family are close. Do they seem like a realistic family? Why, or why not?

  • Which parts about the Great Fire of 1666 do you think are real, and which do you think are made up? How can you find out if you're right?

  • Why are so many fantasy stories told as series? How would the ending be different if the author didn't plan to continue Jack's adventures?

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