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The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton's Lair: S. S. Taylor

Book: The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton's Lair (Book 2)
Author: S. S. Taylor
Illustrator: Katherine Roy
Pages: 320
Age Range: 10-14

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton's Lair is the second book in S. S. Taylor's Expeditioners series, following The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon. After a somewhat slow start, The Secret of King Triton's Lair is an inventive and enjoyable adventure. 

The Secret of King Triton's Lair picks up a few months after the events of the first book. In Taylor's alternate reality, steampunk-inspired world, siblings Zander, Kit, and MJ West are attending (not completely by choice) the Academy for the Exploratory Sciences run by the Bureau of Newly Discovered Lands (BNDL).

Zander and MJ are settling in well at the Academy, each with particular skills that fit in well with the needs of this school/camp. Narrator Kit is having a more difficult time, with much of his attention focused on understanding a map from his missing father that he discovered at the end of the prior book. This map, which is sought after by higher-ups within the Academy and BNDL, eventually leads Kit to propose an expedition to a mysterious underwater region of the Caribbean. The second half of the book covers the expedition to King Triton's Lair. 

Personally, I had a bit of trouble getting through the first half of the book, in which a variety of characters make appearances, political plots abound, and Kit experiences resentment and self-doubt. But the second half of the book, encompassing sea voyages, mysterious undersea creatures, pirates, and betrayals, kept me reading late into the night. I understand that some groundwork was necessary, but I personally felt that Book I could have been condensed a bit in favor of the considerably more exciting Book II. I still finished the book looking forward to the Expeditioners' next adventure. 

Two things that helped to maintain my interest during the first part of the book were intermittent excerpts from the journal of 16-year-old James Rickwell and occasional full-page illustrations by Katherine Roy. Roy's illustrations add to the relatively dark tone of the book, and also bring Zander, Kit, and MJ to life. Rickwell's journal, written during an 1823 sea voyage to the same area later visited by Kit and his team, provides foreshadowing and clues (though I did occasionally have difficulty deciphering the script handwriting). 

Throughout the book, I enjoyed reading about the various gadgets in Kit's world (especially those invented by MJ). Even the West family's pet bird is an experiment:

"Pucci's presence at the Academy was barely tolerated as it was. Like other unfortunate animals and birds, he'd been modified by the government for use during protests and crowd situations, his legs replaced by metal ones." (Page 27)

Taylor's detailed building of the Expeditioners' world, in which people still seek out undiscovered lands (possibly deliberately hidden by previous map-makers), is intriguing. Narrator Kit is relatable and occasionally profound. Like this:

"I stood there for a long time after she left, listening to the tiny splashes of fish jumping out in the silvery ocean, the words I hadn't said stuffed uncomfortably in my mouth." (Page 206)

There is a bit of boy-girl longing and some subtle competition between Kit and Zander over a girl's attention, but The Secret of King Triton's Lair is still solidly middle grade friendly. Because the text is a bit dense, I would agree with the publisher's stated age range of 10-14, but there is nothing to stop a strong younger reader from giving this book a try. 

Fans of middle grade steampunk and/or books in which kids set out on epic adventures (with pirate sightings!) will enjoy the Expeditioners series. The Secret of King Triton's Liar adds new wonders to their world, as well as a bit more exploration of the characters' interpersonal dynamics. The expedition itself is a wild, page-turning ride, one that will have readers coming back for more. 

Publisher: McSweeney's/McMullens 
Publication Date: September 23, 2014
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

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