The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon, by S. S. Taylor, was published in 2012 by McSweeney’s McMullens.

Computers have failed, electricity is extinct, and the race to discover new lands is underway! Brilliant explorer Alexander West has just died under mysterious circumstances, but not before smuggling half of a strange map to his intrepid children—Kit the brain, M.K. the tinkerer, and Zander the brave. Why are so many government agents trying to steal the half-map? (And where is the other half?) It’s up to Alexander’s children—the Expeditioners—to get to the bottom of these questions, and fast.

Rating: 3/5

Although The Expeditioners starts out by dumping a little too much information about the world at once, it evens out and becomes a delightful treasure hunt novel that brought to my mind Indiana Jones, the Uncharted video game series, and Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn. I’m a fan of steampunk lite (“The Steampunk for Kids!” TM) and Taylor does a good job with introducing the world and explaining the differences—although it is, as I said, very heavy in the beginning, and I still am confused about the “how the world got this way” part.

I did like the world and the treasure hunt aspect of the book much more than the characters themselves; Kit had this awful philosophizing first-person voice that I hate, where at any lull of the novel he dwells on something and then goes on and on about it and what it means in the Grand Scheme of Things, and the other characters alternated between flat and semi-interesting continuously. The illustrations are delightful, though, and add a little bit of depth to the treasure hunt/adventure vibe of the book.

There are better treasure hunt books out there, and better steampunk worlds, but The Expeditioners does a good job of joining the two together and getting a decent treasure hunt and a decent—but highly confusing—steampunk world that helped lessen the pain that a handful of fluctuating characters and a waxing philosophic narrator brought.

Recommended Age Range: 12+

Warnings: None.

Genre: Steampunk, Middle Grade

“He never returned,” he said in a quiet voice. “It began to rain the next day. Very hard. The theory was that a flash flood tore into the remote canyon where he had seen the mine shaft and the gold. He wouldn’t have stood a chance. He is presumed drowned, though his body never washed up. The canyon near where he thought he’d found the Spanish conquistadores’ store of gold, and where he was lost, is now referred to as Drowned Man’s Canyon.

“That must have been the title of the map,” I said. “So what happened? Did anyone ever find the gold?”

Zander and M. K. and I waited for the answer.

“No,” Mr. Mountmorris said finally. “Scores of men and women have gone looking for Dan Foley’s treasure, but no one has ever found it.” His eyes gleamed with a greedy delight. “But perhaps the great explorer Alexander West knew where to find the treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon.”

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