The Boundless, by Kennel Oppel, was published in 2014 by Simon & Schuster.
Will Everett has always wished for an adventure. Little does he know his adventure starts the moment he boards the Boundless. There is a murder, and now Will protects a key that can unlock the train’s hidden treasures. Villains are fast on his heels and strange creatures are lurking outside the windows, as the Boundless hurtles across the country. Together with Maren, a gifted escape artist, and Mr. Dorian, a circus ringmaster with amazing abilities, Will must save the Boundless before someone else winds up dead. His adventure may have begun without him knowing…but how it ends is up to Will.
The Boundless is a steampunk MG novel that appears to be set in the same universe as Airborn, if only because the same fictional city, Lionsgate City, appears in both. And as you might know, I loved Airborn and its sequels, so coming back to another steampunk adventure was exciting.
I loved the worldbuilding in this book. I loved the train; its many, many cars; and all the little details that Oppel puts in that makes the book at once familiar and new. Although it was slightly unexpected, I did like the additional supernatural touch that Oppel added, which was integrated smoothly and in a way that made it ambiguous as to whether supernatural things were really going on or not.
However, I must say that the tense used really bothered me. I’m not fond of the third-person present tense, and the entire book just felt slightly off because of it. I felt like I couldn’t be immersed as fully as I could be because the tense just kept popping off the page and shouting in my face. It kept me from enjoying the novel as much I wanted to, sadly.
I also didn’t particularly like the ending; I didn’t like what Will decided to do. His decision also didn’t particularly fit well with his character, since the choice he rejected at the end was the choice that I felt Oppel was leaning more towards with Will’s development. So, to me, the choice was almost a betrayal of what we had learned about Will. It wasn’t completely without merit, but the option Will chooses at the end wasn’t set-up or developed nearly as much as the option he rejects, in my opinion.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some scary and violent scenes.
Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade
“The Boundless is the longest train in the world. When we’re finished coupling the last of her cars, she’ll be pulling nine hundred and eighty-seven.”
“Is she strong enough?” cries out a reporter whose body is all angles.
Will’s father looks astonished. “Is she strong enough? Gentlemen, look at her!”
The Boundless had a fantastic premise, with great worldbuilding and all the magnificence and fun you can expect when a traveling circus travels on a novelty train. Even the supernatural elements were nicely melded with the world. However, the tense kept me from really enjoying the book, and I thought Will’s choice at the end compromised his character. A good one from Oppel, but not great.
You can buy this here: The Boundless