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The Boundless


The Boundless

The Boundless is the largest, longest and finest train ever constructed: a three-story tall steam engine that pulls more than 6,000 passengers in more than 900 cars all the way from Halifax to Victoria. It’s a glorious city on wheels, and Will Everett is riding first class with his father for its maiden trip across the continent. Aboard the train with the upper-class passengers are second- and third-class passengers, European immigrants heading to land grants in the West, hundreds of freight cars and a traveling circus.  Most marvelous of all, though, is a car close behind the engine: the funeral car for the chief executive of the Canadian Pacific Railway, who chose to be “buried” aboard the Boundless, along with his most prized possessions, including a diamond-encrusted gold railway spike worth $200,000. Only two people have the key to the funeral car: Will’s father, an upper-level manager for the Railway, and the funeral car’s guard.

When Will decides to take a walk at the train’s first stop, he does not expect to be nearly left behind --- and he certainly does not expect to witness the guard’s murder at the hands of a Boundless brakeman. Now, aboard the caboose with the guard’s key to the funeral car in his pocket, Will becomes a target for the league of malevolent brakemen who are looking for a way to burglarize the opulent funeral car. Along with Mr. Dorian, the circus’s ringmaster, and Maren, its intriguing tightrope-walker and escape artist, Will begins a fast-paced journey through the miles of train cars to his father at the front of the train. But can he reach the engine before the nefarious brakemen catch up to him?

The Boundless itself almost becomes a character in the narrative as Will explores its many cars, 

THE BOUNDLESS is a fun, steampunk-inspired adventure through late 19th-century Canadian history. 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. The Boundless itself almost becomes a character in the narrative as Will explores its many cars, from the opulent Turkish baths and glass-domed Terrace car in first class, to the open-sided shooting gallery in second-class, to the rowdy saloon in third class, to the tight but friendly colonists’ cars, all the way back to the surreal and sensational circus cars. 

In each section of the train, Will discovers a new community, and there he learns a little more about the inequities present in his society. Seeing the whole train allows Oppel to explore historical issues of immigration, race and class without being overbearing. The high-stakes adventure, magic and illustrations will draw in middle-grade readers, perhaps even some reluctant readers, while the history, setting and subplots will intrigue older readers. All readers will appreciate the unique and interesting characters and will love watching Will as he develops self-confidence as an artist and as a person.


Reviewed by Quinn Colter on February 23, 2014

The Boundless
by Kenneth Oppel

  • Publication Date: April 22, 2014
  • Genres: Children's, Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 144247288X
  • ISBN-13: 9781442472884