The Boundless, by Kenneth Oppel

In the late 19th century, a boy named Will, the son of a humble railroad worker, finds himself hammering in the gold spike that finishes the railroad line stretching across northern North America.   But he does not get to revel in the moment, for almost immediately an avalanche comes rushing down on the small crowd...and caught in the snow with them are a young Sasquatch and its mother...and things get more than a little tense.

(Yes, Sasquatches--along with other creatures of Native North America, they populate the forests of this book).

As a result of what happened that day, Will's family is elevated up and up in social status and financial security by the owner of the railroad.  And at last the day comes with the great train for which it was designed will cross the country.  The Boundless (the most extravagantly imagined train I've ever read about) stretches for miles (literally), will all sorts of fancy cars and amenities for the rich, working downward in creature comforts past the circus travelling in numerous cars of their own, to the settlers bumping along in the cars at the very back, with no amenities beyond floor boards.  Will, now a teenager, is part of the first class contingent, headed (he hopes) to art school in California, as opposed to the railroad career his father wants with him.

And on the train along with Will there are:

--a murderer, who plans to kill again
--a dead man, his body protected by booby traps of a most ingenious sort
--a young escape artist and tightrope walker; Will met her briefly long ago, and has never stopped thinking about her (and the fact that she never gave him back his Sasquatch tooth)
--a man determined to live beyond his allotted years, who will use what ever tools or people come to his hand
--several strange automatons
--an imprisoned Sasquatch

And much more.

This isn't going to be the fun journey Will had expected.  Because unfortunately for him, he's the one targeted by the killer.  Will knows much more than is safe about the secrets travelling along with the Boundless.

Though there is murderous danger on board the train, The Boundless is more an adventure story than it is a mystery.  The reader knows the identity of the bad guy from the beginning of the adventure, and so it's a game of cat and mouse with none of the tension that comes from the growing realization that there is danger.  Other tensions, like nighttime chases across the tops of the cars, scary supernatural beings, betrayals and friendships, are there in full force!

I do not introduce myself to others as someone who loves adventure stories set about trains in 19th century North America, so I approached The Boundless with some trepidation.   Happily, the fantasy twists and flowerings of imagination with which the pages are filled kept me pleasantly interested, and I ended up liking it.  And I liked Will, and his drawing abilities (which are germane to the plot and not just an add on) very much.   And as an outsider to First Class, he shares with the reader his awareness of the social injustices on which the train runs, which I appreciated.

In short, fine historical fantasy that will appeal to older middle grade readers, and younger YA ones (there's a nascent romance that doesn't go so far as to make this full YA), who like a dash of steampunk and deadly intrigue in their train travels.  I'd give this one to the quirky kids, the ones who don't like long epic fantasies but don't want straight reality either.


  1. Mmm, I like the sound of this one. Touches of steampunk, a murder afoot, adventure, upper MG... those are all things that sound wonderful in combination. And Liviania is right - the cover is awesome!

  2. Wonderful cover and I love the combination of trains, adventure and mystery. Thanks for the review, off to add it to the TBR list.

  3. It has been a very long time since I read anything by Kenneth Oppel (I read the Silverwing books when they were first published). Of all his books, though, this one really appeals to me. I'll have to check it out!


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