Book: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon
Author: S. S. Taylor
Illustrator: Katherine Roy
Age Range: 10 and up
The Expeditioners by S. S. Taylor (illustrated by Katherine Roy) is the first middle grade novel published by McSweeney's McMullens. It's a middle grade adventure / steampunk / alt-history / dystopia, with frequent full-page illustrations. The premise is that in a future world in which computers have turned on society and been outlawed, technological innovation relies on steampunk types of devices (clockwork hands, steamcycles and gliders).
In this world, a series of government sanctioned (and government controlled) Explorers have discovered various lands previously unknown by the rest of humanity (hidden by a glitch in the now-defunct computer systems). Zander, Kit, and M.K. are the recently orphaned children of one such Explorer, struggling to survive on their own. When a cryptic message arrives from their father, the children end up becoming Explorers (or Expeditioners, as their father called it) on their own (picking up a helpful friend or two along the way).
Once I got through a bit of dense world-building at the start of the book, I found The Expeditioners to be an egaging romp, full of just the sort of devices that keeps kids reading (including lost gold, dirigibles, a complete lack of adult supervision, a genetically engineered and dangerous parrot, and plenty of maps!). Like this:
"It was brand-new, which would have tipped me off that it belonged ot the government even if it hadn't had the red BNDL logo imprinted on its side. The fancy steam-powered dirigibles were amazing things: egg-shaped lightweight Gryluminum balloons with gondolas below, and sealed, super-efficient steam engines that allowed them to travel nearly as fast as gliders." (Chapter Two)
I thought that the plot in The Expeditioners relied a little too much on conveniences. For example, the children all inherit vests that contain things to help get them through tight spots - they tend to try out these things at exactly the right time. Like this:
"I checked my own vest. Aside from the shining brass compass embedded in the animal hide on the front, there was also a small pocket on the inside that contained a sextant, just like the little tool Dad had used for navigation. I opened another inside pocket and found a brass spyglass. "Look at this," I told them. "It has ten degrees of magnification, like a really powerful set of binoculars!" (Chapter Nineteen)
There are also a couple of very timely rescues. I also found that Taylor occasionally slipped into telling instead of showing when it came to the children's personalities. But neither of these things kept me from thoroughly enjoying the book - they're basically attributes of the type of book that it is (over the top adventure/fantasy). Certainly I shall look forward to the next book in what promises to be a series.
Roy's illustrations definitely added to my appreciation of the book. They have a certain dark, melodramtic tone that suits the style of the book perfectly, and helps flesh out a mental picture of the characters. They also give The Expeditioners a hint of a graphic novel feel, which I think will broaden the book's appeal.
If you know any 10-year-olds who like adventure stories and/or steampunk-type elements, The Expeditioners should be right on the mark. There is enough heft to the text to be satisfying, but not the overpowering length of some fantasies. Enourage the kids to plow through slightly dense world-building at the start of the book, because The Expeditioners reads much more quickly once you are a few chapters in. It's a fast-paced book full of creative details, a book that strong readers will enjoy. Recommended.
Publisher: McSweeney's McMullens (@McSweeneys)
Publication Date: December 11, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
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