Book Review: The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair by S. S. Taylor

expedBefore I actually talk about this book, can I just say how exciting it is to finally win a Goodreads First Reads giveaway? Thank you, Goodreads, and thank you, McSweeney’s McMullens! It’s quite a treat to win a book that I would have been eager to read no matter what.

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair is the 2nd book in the terrific Expeditioners series, and frankly, I can’t wait for more! Back in 2013, I reviewed the first book, The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon, and I was so happy to get book #2 without too huge a wait in between volumes.

The Expeditioners books are set in a steampunk-ish world, where computers have been proven to be failures, travel is steam-driven, and the world that we know turns out to be missing quite a bit — such as all the previously unknown, secret lands. The Bureau of Newly Discovered Lands (BNDL) controls the discoveries and plunders their resources, and the most important people in the new economy may be Explorers of the Realm, who set out on expeditions of all sorts to discover the planet’s secrets, often risking life and limb.

Our main character is Kit West, a teen-aged boy whose father went missing under mysterious circumstances, leaving Kit, older brother Zander, and younger sister M.K. orphans. In the first book, Kit is given a clue left by their father, which propels the siblings on a cross-country adventure to solve the puzzles and cryptic maps strategically hidden by their father.

In the 2nd book, Kit, Zander, and M.K. are students at the Academy, a training ground for the next generation of Explorers. (Think Hogwarts, minus magic, plus gadgets and missions.) Kit is still puzzling over a new map which they found at the end of their first adventure, sure that it contains yet another lead from their father, one that may bring them closer to understanding his secrets and his disappearance. A competition to design and lead the school’s annual expedition leads the three, along with best friend Sukey and arch-nemesis Leo Nackley, to a sea voyage to the equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. There, Kit believes the unexplainable ocean phenomenon that has led to countless shipwrecks will also reveal their father’s next clue — but Leo Nackley and his powerful father think they’ll discover oil, which in turn will allow the Realm to wage war against other empires by fueling more deadly weapons of destruction.

The Wests and Sukey end up shipwrecked, and that’s not all. The book includes submersibles, pirates, constrictor eels, telepathic turtles, Caribbean islands, and intrigues and conspiracies galore. There’s also a smattering (but not too much) of teen angst, as Kit’s crush on his close friend Sukey turns to hurt and anger when she seems to fall for Zander instead.

One thing I love about the Expeditioners books is how smart and gifted the characters are. Kit is a cartography expert, Zander studies biology and wildlife, M.K., the youngest of the family, is a marvel when it comes to engineering, and Sukey is a talented aviator. Girls are just as strong and competent as the boys, and just as likely to wield a sword against dangerous pirates or fight off a new enemy with an amazing piece of technology. Kit and the gang use their wits to survive and outsmart their opponents, but they never have it easy and nothing comes without new risk.

Black and white illustrations by Katherine Roy enhance the story’s flow and add greatly to the sense of the characters and their world. The inside of the dust cover includes schematics for M.K.’s submersible, and there are maps and old journal pages sprinkled throughout as well.

The action never stops, and while it’s occasionally a chore to keep straight the various government agencies and the geopolitical factions, the main thrust of the story is the West kids and their quest to follow their father’s clues. By the end of this book, there are cracks forming in the siblings’ unwavering commitment to their quest, however, and Kit and his family seem about to be heading off in different directions, scattered by their new assignments and moving forward separately instead of as a team.

Expeditioners #2 (sorry, that’s a lot easier than typing out the full title) has an open-ended conclusion, clearly laying the groundwork for more to come. From what I’ve seen mentioned on a few websites, The Expeditioners is expected to be a six-part series, which means there’s plenty of excitement ahead.

I highly recommend this series for anyone who enjoys kids’ adventure tales — and that includes grown-ups too! My 12-year-old and I made this a joint reading project, and we both loved it. I can see The Expeditioners appealing to Harry Potter fans as well as fans of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy… and as a fan of both, I don’t say that lightly. The Expeditioners has a rich and unusual world for its super-smart and super-engaging characters to explore. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Want to know more? Check out my review of the first book in the series, and also this great Q&A with author S. S. Taylor.


The details:

Title: The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton’s Lair
Author: S. S. Taylor; illustrated by Katherine Roy
Publisher: McSweeney’s McMullens
Publication date: September 23, 2014
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Children’s fiction (upper middle grade; per Amazon, ages 10 and up)
Source: Goodreads First Reads (I finally won something!)

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

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

The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's CanyonIf you love adventurous kids, mysterious maps, hidden canyons, and steam-powered everything, you won’t want to miss The Expeditioners, the first installment in what promises to be a very exciting middle grade series.

The West kids — Zander, Kit, and MK — are the orphaned children of famous explorer Alexander West, who rose to fame and fortune exploring new lands, then died under mysterious circumstances, leaving the three kids to fend for themselves. And when I say new lands, I really mean New Lands: Several decades earlier, after computers and electricity were proven unreliable and were discarded, explorers discovered New Lands hidden amidst the lands already known. Apparently, all those earlier maps were wrong, and the globes we all rely upon are really just quaint relics. The current world includes places such as the New North Polar Sea, Fazia, and Deloia, and exploring and cartography are among the most esteemed and  sought-after vocations.

Unfortunately, the BNDL (Bureau of Newly Discovered Lands) is in control and is awfully shady. Current policy seems to be to discover resource-rich new worlds and then plunder them for all they’re worth. It’s becoming clear to the West kids that perhaps their dad wasn’t entirely pleased with BNDL’s approach — and it’s starting to seem that the feeling was mutual. The kids are being watched, and when our narrator, Kit, receives a package from a stranger in the market, it sets off a chain of events that will lead the kids into danger as well as excitement.

As The Expeditioners moves forward, Kit and his siblings, along with their new friend Sukey, daughter of a famous explorer herself, set out to solve a puzzle left behind by Alexander. Hidden maps and secret codes lead the gang to a daring escape from BNDL agents and on a mad cross-country dash toward a legendary treasure lost centuries earlier in the canyons of Arizona. The government wants the treasure too, and it’s a race to see who will find it first — if it exists at all.

I read this book with my 11-year-old (who still likes me to read to him at bedtime — hurray!). Let me just cut to the chase here — we both loved The Expeditioners.

The world-building is terrific, as we are introduced to a steampunky society in which the ability to build, tinker, and create is of utmost importance, as are big heaps of courage and a willingness to leap into the unknown. The author takes our own world and technology and spins it into something at once familiar yet completely new. There are no cars, but that’s okay: People travel by steam trains, dirigibles, even steam-powered bicycles and IronSteeds, steam-powered mechanical horses.

The West kids are all talented and honorable. Zander, the oldest at 14, is brave and protective; Kit is a budding cartographer like his dad, and little sister MK can fix anything. Along with their pilot friend Sukey, they demonstrate courage and conviction over and over again, relying on their smarts to get in and out of tight scrapes, with an absolute devotion to one another and to their mission.

A hint of preachiness creeps in when the kids begin to understand the unscrupulous dealings of BNDL and realize how poorly the indigenous populations of the new worlds are being treated. Of course, the PC-lecture tone didn’t faze my son, but I found it a bit heavy-handed.

The storyline is tightly woven and packed with action. After the initial chapters, which seemed about to bog down in exposition, the pace picks up, and we get to truly know the West kids through their adventure, seeing their initiative and daring, as well as their commitment to their father’s memory and to their family as a whole.

Black and white illustrations by Katherine Roy add to the hip feel of the book, bringing the kids to life and adding in details such as gears, clockwork, and goggles that really enhance the story.

The ending makes clear that there is more to come, as the children complete their treasure-seeking adventure and are given a fresh opportunity for new experiences in a new setting. (I’m being intentionally vague here — you won’t get spoilers out of me!) My kiddo and I are both looking forward to seeing how Zander, Kit, and MK fare along their new path, and we really can’t wait for the next Expeditioners book!

Summing it all up: The Expeditioners seems like a perfect choice for middle grade readers, and it’s smart, savvy, and hip enough that parents will enjoy it too. A decidedly different adventure story that’s full of intellectual challenges too, with brave, independent characters of both genders and a range of ages, set in a steampunky American Southwest — this book is one I could see appealing to a wide audience for years to come.


The details:

Title: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon
Author: S. S. Taylor; illustrated by Katherine Roy
Publisher: McSweeney’s McMullens
Publication date: 2012
Genre: Middle grade fiction
Source: Library