Review: The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel

April 6, 2015 § 2 Comments

The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel

I expected The Boundless (by Kenneth Oppel) to be a completely different kind of story.  I was expecting more Hitchcock/Christie vibes, more mystery.  The premise says nothing about sasquatch and muskeg hags, circus acts and magic.

This is not to say that I was disappointed.  The Boundless is a train more than seven miles long, pulling nine hundred and eighty-seven cars carrying six and a half thousand people – including a circus and all its animals – all the way across the breadth of Canada.  The Boundless has first, second, and third class sections, another set of cars that are the equivalent of steerage, and the circus cars.  Will, the teenaged protagonist, is the son of the engineer.  At a stop along the way, he witnesses a murder – and is seen by the murderer.  Now he is being chased from the caboose toward the engine, desperate to reach safety and warn his father.  Along the way, he runs into several famous Canadian figures, including sasquatch and Sam Steele.

There is so much more to the story, but I don’t want to give anything more away because I want you to find out more for yourself.  I was surprised by the many disparate elements that Oppel managed to include in a single novel; it was so much more colorful than what I expected.  There are more historical references and more magic, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention the suspense.  The book is, after all, a long chase on a very long train through dangerous territory: there were some scenes that made me sit up and lean forward and race through the pages.

The book does deal in a few cliches: the artistic-boy-vs-businessman-father conflict, for example.  But I don’t think they detract too much from the book as a whole; they are too small a part of a sprawling, surprising, variegated narrative.  The book has slower parts, more reflective or calm scenes, which balance out the hectic and tense passages very well and result in an unusual but enjoyable pace.

If you are looking for an adventure story set in a magical-realistic world, with historical truths and mythical creatures and a beautiful, fantastic, seven-mile train, The Boundless might be exactly what you need.

I would recommend The Boundless to YA readers.  For content advisory, see my Goodreads review

Have you read any stories lately that surprised you? 

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