The Boundless, the greatest train ever built, is on its maiden voyage across the country, and first-class passenger Will Everett is about to embark on the adventure of his life!
When Will ends up in possession of the key to a train car containing priceless treasures, he becomes the target of sinister figures from his past.
In order to survive, Will must join a traveling circus, enlisting the aid of Mr. Dorian, the ringmaster and leader of the troupe, and Maren, a girl his age who is an expert escape artist. With villains fast on their heels, can Will and Maren reach Will’s father and save The Boundless before someone winds up dead?
The Boundless was one of my more anticipated middle grade titles for this year. It combined Canadian history (such as the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railroad and Sam Steele) and associated lore (the legend of the last spike) with supernatural/mystical aspects (sasquatches, muskeg hags, and magic) to create a thoroughly enjoyable read.
The Boundless is written in third person present. This tense doesn’t normally work for me, since it’s harder to become emotionally invested in the characters, however it provided a sense of immediacy to this alternate Canadian history which made up for that.
Will Everett is an ordinary boy who wishes to take part in an amazing adventure story of his own. He’s a refreshing change from most heroes, as he isn’t incredibly brave or reckless in survival situations; instead, Will is loyal and determined to a fault, and has a strong sense of what is right, making him incredibly easy to like. It was a bit difficult to reconcile his voice with his supposed age, though; his internal monologues made him seem closer to a pre-teen than an adult. While this allowed The Boundless to fall into the middle grade classification, it was a bit disconcerting at first.
The secondary characters were incredibly colourful, ranging from tightrope walkers to railway workers. My absolute favourite was Mr. Dorian, the circus master, whose actions and motivations placed him firmly on the grey scale of morality. I also appreciated the parallels to another famous literary character of the same name – picking up on these subtle references wasn’t crucial to the plot (as younger readers likely haven’t read Oscar Wilde’s works), but it added a level of intrigue for those who did.
My only complaint is that the villain felt quite one-dimensional, and that the characters didn’t undergo as much growth as I had hoped they would. The villain’s anger and resentment were warranted (though his actions certainly aren’t condoned), however that wasn’t explored too much – and while that makes sense, given the target age range of the story, it would have created a more morally ambiguous character whose motivations were clearly understood.
Overall, The Boundless is a well-paced, magical adventure that is sure to appeal to middle grade audiences. It functions well as a stand alone, however I wouldn’t mind another glimpse into this alternate history that Oppel created.
I received a copy of this book from HarperCollins Canada in exchange for an honest review.