By Kenneth Oppel
Published by David Fickling Books
ISBN 978 1 910200 10 0
Step aboard The Boundless, a train measuring more than 10 kilometres, and made up of nearly 1,000 carriages and wagons. It's the 19th century, and this amazing machine has been built to cross the vast expanses of Canada. Adventure is waiting for anyone who has a ticket for this once-in-a-lifetime trip.
This miracle of design and engineering is a three-storey-high steam engine effortlessly transporting more than 6,000 passengers and tonnes of freight from Halifax in the country's east to Victoria in the west. It's a snake-like city on wheels packed with rich, first-class passengers, second and third-class travellers, European immigrants heading to new homes, and a travelling circus.
At the front of the train, a special, locked wagon carries the body of Cornelius Van Horne, the recently deceased chief executive of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Van Horne created The Boundless and wanted to be buried onboard his train along with his most prized possessions, which include a diamond-encrusted gold railway spike,a symbol of the last piece of the railway track.
But gold brings greed, and there are passengers onboard the super-train who have their eye on the spike locked in the funeral wagon.
Kenneth Oppel's set-up for his new novel The Boundless is brilliant. In an opening chapter packed with tension and plot-promise, Oppel introduces Will Everett, a boy who dreams of becoming an artist. His dad, an engineer working on the Canadian Pacific track, is in the wrong place at the right time when an avalanche hits the construction site. Everett Senior saves Van Horne's life, and is promoted to a top job for his bravery.
Fast-forward three years: The Boundless sets off amid clouds of steam and excitement. Will and his father are travelling in First Class; further along the train, Oppel sets up an interesting cast of fellow travellers. And then Will witnesses a murder, ends up at the wrong end of the train, and has to trick and fight his way back to the front.
He joins forces with a pair of circus performers , with the villain shadowing his every move. Can he beat the bad guys back through the miles of carriages to the front of the train, and prevent them putting their nefarious plans into explosive action?
The Boundless itself is a memorable creation and, far from just providing a setting, is very much a main character.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com