Monday, November 13, 2017

The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel

Do you love a fast paced adventure?  Do you enjoy train travel?  Would you like to visit the circus? Do you wonder about creatures like the Sasquatch?  Do you enjoy books where you cheer the hero and hiss the villain?  If you answered yes to any of these questions then The Boundless is absolutely the right book for you.

The year is 1887 and the Boundless, the most amazing train in the world, the longest train in the world with 987 carriages holding 6,495 passengers, measuring seven miles is making a maiden voyage from Halifax in Eastern Canada right across to Victoria in the west.  This exciting and unique train becomes one of the characters in this story of murder, circus performers and the eternal quests for gold and immortality.  In each chapter we read about the incredible and splendid facilities provided on the train.  I don't want to spoil things too much for you because the train is filled with wonders including a billiards room and an amazing post office but here are a few descriptions :

"before him is a luxurious parlor with armchairs and sofas and side tables and electric lamps and fresh flowers in vases."

"Entering the Vancouver car, he finds himself in a cozy library, with long reading tables and green shaded lamps and floor-to-ceiling walnut bookshelves between the windows."

"Our rolling city comprises first class, second class, third class, colonist class, and behind these several miles of freight cars ... (and) a string of eighty carriages belonging to the world-renowned Zirkus Dante."

In chapter one we learn that Will's dad has been working on the railway.  Will is invited to visit his father up on the line but on the way the train is attacked by a sasquatch. The owner of the line, Mr Van Horne, has organised a ceremony featuring the installation of the last rail spike.  To mark the occasion this spike is gold and encrusted with diamonds.  Will is given the honor of hammering in the spike but the celebratory gun fire sets of a huge avalanche.  Will, his dad, Mr Van Horne and Brogan are among the survivors as the snow engulfs the scene.  Three years later the train is now ready to set off but Brogan still has his sights set on that spike.  He will stop at nothing, including murder, to win this prize.  Also seeking a prize is Mr Dorian the circus manager.  He wants a painting owned by Van Horne but it seems the owner will not part with this 'treasure'.  Sadly now Van Horne is dead but he riding the train in a special carriage which contains his coffin.

The train is speeding through the countryside and so is Will because Brogan wants the key to Van Horne's coffin rail car and Will is now holding it after the guard from the funeral car is killed.  Helping him with all of this Will has a wonderful friend - circus performer Maren.  Her skill with locks, her tightrope expertise and her courage all help Will escape certain death more than once.

I have been a fan of Canadian author Kenneth Oppel for many years.  I highly recommend you look for the trilogy which begins with Airborn and the quartet which begins with Silverwing.

You can hear part of Chapter Two here.  This book would make a splendid class read-aloud for a senior Primary group and Kenneth Oppel has a set of teaching notes to get you started.  If I have not convinced you to read The Boundless here is an enthusiastic review with more plot details and some ideas to use for a book talk.  If you enjoy train stories you could also look for On the Blue Comet by Rosemary Wells.  I was excited to see my fellow blogger Mr K also loved this book - he said This is one of my favorite books of the year, and an excellent adventure story for boys and girls alike.  It is the best book Mr. Oppel has written (and he's written some real winners), and a book I'll recommend to everyone.

Canadian railway history, fantasy, a flutter of romance—and a thoughtful examination of social injustice—collide in this entertaining swashbuckler ... Kirkus

Kenneth Oppel weaves history with alternative technology and a real landscape with creatures from native folklore: sasquatches roam the forested mountains, wendigos haunt the northern wastes and a muskeg hag lures unsuspecting travelers into her bog. The fully-realized setting outside the train is detailed and realistic, with avalanches and forested mountainsides galore, but the train is the most compelling element of the setting. KidsReads

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