This was the Great Middle Grade Reads group’s Book of the Month for March, and I read it in two sittings over Easter, with a paperback from my library.
The Blurb (from Goodreads)
“She’s the most powerful steam engine in the world,” Will’s father tells the reporters. “She’d pull the moon out of orbit. As for her length, it’s more than seven miles…”
When Will Everett boards The Boundless he expects the ride of his life – not a fast route to death. But when the key to the train’s secret cargo falls into his possession he finds himself hunted by ruthless killers. As the great train hurtles across the country he will need all his wits to elude his pursuers – and keep himself alive.
This was a historical fiction pick for the group, and we had quite a debate as to whether it truly belong in that category. The Boundless is a fantastic steam engine (or the whole seven mile long train), travelling on its maiden journey from east to west coast Canada. But we start three years earlier, when Will is waiting to meet up with his father, who’s been working on the railroad. I saw one reviewer say it was a slow start, but I wonder what they think is fast if an avalanche, and an encounter with a Sasquatch doesn’t get the adrenalin flowing. Back to the train, which by a series of fortunate events, is now managed by Will’s dad, who settles him in the luxury of First Class while he goes forward to drive the train for most of the journey. That’s a novel way of getting your teen protagonist into the ‘absent parent’ scenario so he can get up to real adventures! (His mother died in the intervening three years). The adventures include a girl he met three years earlier, who is part of a circus (I think I’ve had enough of circuses in books), and various other characters, who have also moved on from their roles in the prologue.
The adventures are beautifully described, and use the settings of both the train itself, with the differences between the classes of passengers and their accommodation, and the changes as the train speeds through the landscape. At times I felt the detailed description was overdone, but then I have read an Orient Express story recently. On the other hand, would young teen readers enjoy the detail? Maybe making the other characters more rounded would have been better. I mentioned reading it in two sessions – I felt it lost its way in the middle, having shifted to rather predictable ground, but there were a couple of event twists later in the book, one of which had been flagged up,and I thought was a dream – yet it turn out to be a ‘real’ event. The other was a neat reference to other books, using a mechanism that gave Will a chance to extend himself, which was good.
It’s a hard book to classify, since it has a distinct feeling of steampunk about it despite its historical fiction classification. Someone mentioned fantasy, and it is fantastical, but more ghostly than a fantasy genre. It’s intriguing, and a good adventure, and one which I’m glad I read. I enjoyed it, and give it 3 Goodreads stars. And it’s got a gorgeous cover.
I’d still like to know how the plumes on Van Horne’s carriage still flutter after thousands of miles in a fifty mile an hour wind. Or are plumes something different in Canada?