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Riding the Boundless

22 Sep

Donald Smith drove in the ceremonial last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) on November 7, 1885, at Craigellachie, British Columbia.


The Boundless  by Kenneth Oppel begins at this event, memorialized forever in the picture above, and turns history on its head.

hi res cover

The young boy behind Donald Smith (the man holding the sledgehammer) is the main character of this new version of the story of a trip across Canada that includes sasquatches, muskeg hags, a circus troupe and murder!

The eponymous Boundless is an 11-kilometer long train on its maiden voyage across Canada. Oppel pulls from all kinds of Canadian mythology making this an especially enjoyable read for me, but it shouldn’t be off-putting to non-Canadians. Oppel did extensive research about the history of trains and you can read some of it and see pictures that inspired his descriptions on Oppel’s blog.

The main character, Will Everett is the son of a railroad laborer. When his father saves the life of Cornelius Van Horne, president of the CPR, their lives change forever. Van Horne promotes Mr. Everett and when we meet them again, his dad is in charge of the Boundless’ maiden voyage and they are on their way to British Columbia where Mr. Everett will head Van Horne’s shipping venture to the Orient.

The Boundless gives us real insight to the different classes on the train and the lives of the train laborers.  At first, i found his lack of confidence irritating, but eventually, I realized that Willis uncomfortable at the rapid change of his circumstances and doesn’t really know where he fits in. He longs for adventure and finds it, and his place, on the Boundless.

This isn’t Oppel’s best story ever, but it is a good, faced-paced, action-filled read.

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