Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Boundless

A good rule of thumb for children's books is that if it's difficult for an adult to make it through, it will probably be exponentially more difficult for a child to finish.  Unless that was me as a child, in which case I generally slogged through anything because I felt it was my solemn duty to finish them.  I can't believe how much time I wasted.  I even reread things that I didn't like.  The only explanation I have for this is: kids are weird.


So maybe, kids will really like Kenneth Oppel's The Boundless.  I enjoyed Airborn, but unfortunately, this felt like a bland retread of that book, only with a train instead of airships.  I actually did a lot of skimming with this in the middle sections, mostly because I just didn't care anymore.  

Wait, let me just take a moment to tell you how tired I am of MG/J fic male protagonists named Will.  If they're not named Will, they're named Jack, and there's only so many of them that I can keep straight in my head.  A quick Google search turned up the occurance of names by decade on the US Census (I know, The Boundless is set in Canada, but let's just assume that the English-speaking bits of Canada were on relatively the same wavelength regarding names as their southern neighbors).  Yes, William and John (Will and Jack, respectively) were the most popular names.  However, why not give your protagonist a moniker that hasn't been beaten to death?  Even a plain ol' Biblical name would have worked: Aaron, Daniel, Elijah ... or the more esoteric: Drummond, Horatio (I got these off of Canadian marriage licenses of the 1800s here).

Anyway, all name-ranting aside, this book is just so dull.  The premise: Will's father is a railroad worker, and is currently working on the Canadian Transcontinental Railroad.  Will and his mother go out to meet dear ol' Dad, and Will meets two interesting people: a tightrope walker named Maren and the president of the railroad, the ultra-rich Cornelius Van Horne (pro tip: you can tell he is a Big Shot because he has a "van" in his name and an extra "e" at the end).  Of course, Will sort of falls for Maren, despite being a bit young for that, and impresses Van Horne by his bravery in the face of avalanche-provoked sasquatch attacks (yes, sasquatch.  More on that in a bit.).

A few years later, Will's father has been promoted and his family has gone from teetering on the brink of poverty to breaking into the world of the nouveau riche.  Gone are cold baths in the boarding house sink.  Gone, too, is Will's sasquatch tooth, as he left it with Maren several years ago.  Now, Cornelius Van Horne's dream of a massive train that will travel the continent has been realized: it is called the Dauntless, and she is the Titanic of locomotives (alas, Van Horne has conveniently just died, so the maiden voyage will also carry his casket).  More so, really, because the Dauntless is several miles long in order to accomodate all the classes and luxuries accorded to them (well, mostly to first-class passengers), as well as the circus.  Unlike the Titanic, whose decks could grow vertically, the Dauntless has double-decker cars, but because of their inherent instabiity, holds all of its passengers by stretching out over miles and miles of track.

This is the maiden voyage of the Dauntless, and Will's father (who has a name, I'm sure, but is so flat of a character that I can only think of him as "Will's father") will be an engineer/conductor-type person, thus leaving Will conveniently alone.  As they chug through the Canadian wilderness, Will must not only protect himself from violent sasquatch attacks and wendigos (wendigoes? wendigi?) but also from evil brakemen.

Look, I have to level with you.  I am getting so bored writing about this book that I just want to go to sleep.

Right.  So Will witnesses a murder, falls in with the circus, reconnects with Maren, is pursued by the murderer, and is stuck in (gasp!) the lower class areas of the train.  However will he warn his father?  However will he stop the murderer?  Whose side is the circus master on, anyway?  How does the captured sasquatch play into this?  However will he protect Cornelius Van Horne's funeral car?  Most importantly, will there be Irish dancing with Leonardo DiCaprio?

This book could be called The Neverending Train Ride of ZZZZ and it would suit perfectly.  I'm so disappointed to read this from Oppel.  Other reviewers have pointed out that it is similar, thematically, to the second book in the Airborn series, which is unfortunate.  Reworking someone else's material is never a good thing, but when you do it to yourself, it smacks of desperation.




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