The romance of train travel, the mysterious danger of the Canadian wilderness, and the lure of the circus are all on board for a roller-coaster adventure in Kenneth Oppel’s latest novel, The Boundless.
Oppel mixes history, myth and magic in this story that takes place on a transcontinental train trip. Will Everett, a diffident young hero, must stop thieves from stealing some precious cargo. Aided by Maren, a lithe and captivating circus acrobat, and Mr. Dorian, the owner of the circus (who has dark motives of his own), Will must challenge his own self-doubt before he can outwit his enemies.
But the real hero of the book may be the train itself, the Boundless — a two-storey, seven-mile luxury train. Oppel has fun describing all the working details of this lavish hotel on wheels. He has a delightful way of taking the story just past the believable into the realm of the almost possible. This applies both to his fantastical train and the frightening creatures Will encounters — the fierce sasquatch and the hag who lures people to their deaths in the swampy muskeg.
Oppel creates a dark alternate universe, with his train hurtling through a foreshortened Canadian landscape. One might wonder what happened to Ontario, Quebec and the prairies, but one won’t be pondering long, because the train is suddenly mired in muskeg and the thieves are at the cabin door. Outside the train, untamed nature threatens the travellers; inside human nature is just as deadly.
Oppel knows how to tell a good story and he does it superbly in The Boundless, with non-stop action, intrigue and complex characters you want to get to know better. (Perhaps in a sequel?)