May 4, 2015
The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel
by Kenneth Oppel
Simon and Schuster
It isn’t quite steam punk although steam is at the center of this adventure that centers on the Canadian railroads. From avalanches to Sasquatch and circuses to the Fountain of Youth, this story is rich and complex and magical.
It takes place in the Gilded Age, a time when the wealthy consume without apology, taking what they want from the land and from their workers. Will knows he’s fortunate to have a place on the maiden voyage of the Boundless, the most massive locomotive to chug across Canada. Maybe this will be his chance to have an adventure of his very own instead of getting by with the stories his father tells.
Then he sees a security guard murdered and finds himself hiding from the killer, one of the train’s brakemen. He knows the man isn’t working alone but how can he find out who is scheming against his father and the railroad? In a desperate attempt to escape, Will runs the roofs of the train cars in the dark and makes his way to the center of the train. As he runs the circus cars, he is grabbed and pulled through a hole in the roof, captured by the circus elephant.
The circus performers take Will in, offering to hide him until he can get back to his father but can Will really trust the strong man, the high wire walker or the knife thrower?
This book is so complex that it is almost impossible to describe. This is seriously my fifth attempt to write a coherent review.
Oppel’s characters are complex and multidimensional. The “good guys” are beautifully flawed and it is almost impossible to be sure who to trust.
The setting is 100% Gilded Age with the wealth dripping perfume and jewels even while the poor scrabble to survive. Conspicuous consumption abounds and few people have the nerve to question the morality of breaking men to build an empire.
I have to admit that it took me a while to warm up to this book. I love Sasquatch stories and did not appreciate that the Sasquatch in this book are . . . malevolent? Vengeful? But I did like the way that two different plot lines explored the idea of immortalizing one man at the expense of the lives of others.
History buffs who also enjoy fantasy and steam punk will find a new book to love in The Boundless.