The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Simon & Schuster BFYR
Published: May 2015
Genre: middle grade, adventure, historical fiction
The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life! When he ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.
In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?
The Boundless is the longest train in the world, and it’s taking its maiden voyage across Canada with Will’s father as the driver. Will and his father weren’t always first-class passengers though. Mr Everett was once a breakman, assisting on the railroad and hopping between cars. He and Will lived through a devastating avalanche, one with events that’s coming back to haunt Will on The Boundless. To save himself before he or his father gets murdered, Will must join the traveling circus on the train before it’s too late.
There’s something about train stories I find fascinating and incredible. It’s both a stable and moving setting, a character on its own. When you have a train that’s 7 miles long like The Boundless, you know suspense is going to be a part of the story. Any time the train is moving, so is the plot. Any time the train stops, an insurmountable build-up of tension occurs, and you can’t help but hold your breath in anticipation of what’s to come. This book is steeped in Canadian cultural history, so that and the mountains and forests the train zooms past is as much of a character as the train, too.
Will and Maren, a girl in the traveling circus, are caught up in two different plots that have one ultimate goal: to save or kill Will’s father. They’re busy running from the villains — disguised breakmen angered by events that happened three years prior in the avalanche — as well as nabbing a unique, magical canvas for the ringmaster Mr. Dorian (I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a bizarre Dorian Gray connection…there isn’t). If they can find the canvas, they can save Will’s father. If they cannot, the breakmen just might harm all the passengers on The Boundless.
One issue I had with the book is how black-and-white the villains were. They’re your standard big bulky bullies with guns and knives and clubs, chasing after children and grunting and refusing to shave or clean up. Gruff, scruffy men. Your typical DANGER, I AM BAD kind of character. I was hoping for something with a bit more depth, so I’m not sure if it’s the thriller part of this novel that prevented the full potential, or if it’s because this is middle grade. However, there was something about this novel I absolutely adored: Will’s love for art. He sketches and paints, he’s an artist with ambitions to study art in school and receive an art education. He’s a sensitive soul with a curious mind in awe with the world around him. While Mr Everett tries to dampen his son’s artistic spirit, saying it’s “feminine” and not “masculine” enough of a profession, Will refuses to listen and chases after his dreams. That was absolutely lovely to read.
A good middle grade thriller with a dash of magic and a whole lot of great Canadian history. Definitely pick this up if you need a speedy read in the cooler months. Time will zoom by!
This qualifies as book #3 in my autumn reading challenge.