Edith Nesbit is considered one of the pioneers of children's fantasy. Published in 1910, this is one of her earlier novels, I believe.
We jump straight into the story with Philip, a young boy who lives with his grown-up sister, Helen. But his happy, perfect world is shattered when Helen breaks the news to him: she is going to get married. Now Philip has to go live with his stepsister, Lucy, who he very much dislikes, even though Lucy rather wants to be friends. His life is an unhappy mess from the moment he reaches her house, mainly because of the head nurse, who doesn't like him.
Philip loves to build, and after a while he gets all sorts of bricks, and books, and candlesticks, and anything else that would make a good city. He ends up building all over the tables in the room, and it's a very good city, too.
But then, suddenly he finds himself not in the drawing room, but in a big, open plain. He walks across it to find a ladder, which he climbs, and finds himself at the gate of a city.
Needless to say, what he walked into was his own city that he built. And from there, he has a choice to be either one or another figure from a prophecy: either the Deliverer or the Destroyer. And of course, as we would wish, he takes on the job of Deliverer, and so is launched on the adventure of his life.
It's a charming, straightforward, amazing fantasy book. Nesbit's writing style is almost conversational, and that's what ultimately drew me into the story. Of course, I fell in love with the characters, and though I wouldn't say that there was any major character development besides the two main characters, everyone is entirely enjoyable, and on the whole realistic, if that's possible in a whimsical fantasy tale.
But Edith Nesbit really understands people. Because the things the characters say and the way they react to things, and the way she describes their emotions was, in the least, insightful for me, and added another layer or "realness" to the book. Which again, another reason I fell in love with the characters.
And not only does the book deal with heroic, adventurous, fantastical things, but it also deals a little bit with real life, and addresses all of the problems Philip had before he entered his magic city, which again, was an endearing thing.
It's also incredibly inspiring. It's a "classic" fairy-tale while at the same time, something all it's own. I found I was better for reading it, and I daresay, I was a better writer as well.
If you're looking for a completely enjoyable, inspiring, whimsical tale to fall in love with, then read The Magic City. It won't disappoint.