[Note - You really do need to have read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe before this book as it features the same main characters.]
Without giving away too much about the plot, the four children in TLTW&TW are pulled into the realm of Narnia unexpectedly. On arriving there, they find themselves in a bit of a pickle - they don’t know where they actually are or why they are there. Moreover the area they are in seems completely isolated. Eventually they find themselves in a plot involving the eponymous Prince and a quest to save the “Old Narnians”. Aslan (the Lion who created Narnia) is now largely forgotten - though not by all - and little has been seen or heard of him since the events of LTTW&TW. Also, time passes differently on earth and Narnia - so just how long is it since Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy were last there?
The children have also changed a bit since their last visit to Narnia – especially Edmund, who has matured quite nicely, it seems. Poor little Lucy is still the first to believe and the last to be believed. Susan is now a bit of a sceptic, while Peter seems to have retained something of the nature of a High King (the position he held in Narnia for many years, but when they returned to our planet it was as if no time had elapsed). There are several other important characters in the book, including a wise old badger and a scheming dwarf… but you can find those out for yourself.
There is much less symbolism in Prince Caspian than in the previous books, and the moral lessons are stated very plainly. This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem but I found the plot a little thin, the characters not particularly interesting, the development a little too obvious. Obviously the book is primarily intended for children but there was plenty for adults to enjoy in The Magician’s Nephew and, more particularly, The Horse and His Boy. For me, the real joy of reading Lewis’ work is found in the subtle nuances and idiomatic expressions he uses that would be completely missed by children. (Bear in mind as well that I never read these books as a child and thus have no childhood impression of them with which to compare my current viewpoint.) Sadly in this particular book there were only a couple of instances where this shone through.
The way his descriptive prose draws you in is still good in this book, but Lewis' tendency to occasionally talk directly to the reader and compare things in Narnia with things we are familiar with (i.e. a crowd watching a football match) seemed out of place to me and actually pushed me out of the imaginary world rather than pulled me in. The story moved a bit too slowly for my liking, though the fact that some of it was told in retrospect (to fill in Peter & Co on what had happened since they had been there last) wasn't a problem at all.
Lewis’ writing here also seemed a bit odd at times - primarily because he borrowed heavily on various mythology for the characters inhabiting Narnia. Again this seemed out of place though perhaps he was satirising the fact that after the death of the Apostles in the first century there were various attempts to marry up the ideas of Christianity with Greek philosophy, with the result that by the time Lewis was alive many core doctrines of mainstream Christianity owed rather more to the teachings of Socrates and Plato than the Gospels. (If anyone's got any info on whether this was Lewis’ meaning could they please email me or leave a comment – I'd be most interested to find out! What I’ve just written is merely my personal theory on the matter.) At one point he appears to turn into a rampaging feminist for no apparent reason, too! Aslan is written differently to in the previous books, and often comes across as a bit… well, odd.
This is definitely one for kids and not adults. The writing style, the simplistic plot, the lack of symbolism, added up to make this the least enjoyable of the Narnia novels for me personally, but one of the most accese to young children.