May 4, 2015

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:02 am by suebe2

The Boundless
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. 


April 3, 2014

This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:09 am by suebe2

This Dark Endeavor
by Kenneth Oppel
Simon and Schuester Books for Young Readers

Victor Frankenstein wasn’t always driven to re-animate the dead.  True, he has always been the more impulsive of the Frankenstein twins.  And, although both he and Konrad are proud, his sometimes takes a darker, more self-centered turn.   The two are fencing, Victor finally getting the upper hand, when Konrad is struck down by a fever.  Fortunately, their father is a magistrate in Geneva and they live a life of priveledge.  Soon, doctors are visiting the home and Victor is confident that one of them will find a cure.

But as Victor and their cousin Elizabeth look on, the bleedings, tinctures and teas do nothing.  Konrad grows weaker and thinner by the day.

Konrad convinces Elizabeth and their friend Peter that the only solution is to find the ingredients for the Elixir of Life, an alchemical potion sure to cure any illness.

When Father brings a noted scientist to their home, he allows Victor to look through his microscope where he sees the many things in human blood.  Some are helpful but Konrad’s blood has turned on itself.  The scientist is convinced that he can use a small amount of blood to make, perhaps not a cure, but something that will eliviate the symptoms at least for now.

The others are relieved when Konrad’s fever breaks but Victor is determined to finish the Elixir.  What if Konrad has a relapse?  Besides Victor will not be cheated of his opportunity to be the hero but being a true hero comes with at a hefty price.

Oppel spins a story that is part historic fiction but also a bit of dark fantasy.  He combines the world of early chemistry and medical science with that of alchemy and folklore.  In this imagined world we meet a young man who is driven both by curiosity but also the suspicion that no matter how alike he and his twim may seem, Konrad is smarter, more moral and simply a better man.  He may see the good in people, but Victor sees what is wild and what is driven.

I’m not a huge fan of anti-heros and given his jealousy and dark imagination that is clearly what Victor is.  Yet, anyone who has ever worked hard only to fail at proving themselves will identify with him.  His drive to save his brother will definitely appeal to teen boys who also want to be heros and they will certainly identify with Victor’s anger at the many rules that seem to exist only to hold him back.




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