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!)

Series Binge: The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer


Curse you, Marissa Meyer! (Okay, not really).

This is why I hold back. This is why I don’t let myself start new series. Because THIS happens. I read one book. Do I stop? No. I keep going. And before I know it, I’ve read three novels, three short stories, and I’m pulling my hair out over the fact that THERE ARE NO MORE BOOKS. For now.

Last week, I wrote a review of Cinder. And since then, I gobbled up Scarlet and Cress, plus the stories Glitches, The Little Android, and The Queen’s Army.

For those who aren’t familiar with the series, here’s the general idea: In a world set at some point far into the future, over a hundred years since the end of World War Four, planet Earth is divided into large commonwealths who live at peace with one another — but the Earthen peace is threatened by hostilities from Luna. The moon was settled and colonized generations earlier, and over the generations, the Lunar population has developed its own characteristics, most notably the ability to control bioelectricity — basically, the ability to control actions, perceptions, and emotions of others. This makes Lunars very dangerous and very scary to “normal” Earthens.

The Lunar Chronicles books take classic fairy tales and plunk them down in this futuristic landscape, creating a mash-up that’s surprisingly original — and which surprised me by how good it really is.

Cinder herself (think Cinderella) is our #1 heroine, a lowly cyborg mechanic who’s discovered to have a secret connection to the Lunar world. When she catches the eye of Prince Kai, heir to the throne of the Eastern Commonwealth, a chain of events is set into motion that makes Cinder the planet’s most-wanted fugitive.

By the 2nd book, Cinder is joined in her struggle by Scarlet (Red Riding Hood), the farm girl whose grandmother was involved in a royal deception many years earlier. Scarlet is tracked by bioengineered super-soldier Wolf — but she can’t quite tell if he’s the man of her dreams, or the most dangerous thing she’s ever encountered.

In book 3, Cress (Rapunzel) enters Cinder’s world. Cress has been trapped on a satellite in Earth orbit for seven years, completely alone (and with no sharp objects, hence no haircuts). Cress is a master hacker under the control of the Lunar high command, but her true sympathies lie with Cinder and her ragtag band… and the daring, wise-ass space captain Carswell Thorne who comes along to rescue Cress.

And now? Two more books are scheduled for release in 2015: Fairest, focusing on Luna’s evil Queen Levana, comes out in January, and Winter will be released in November. Both relate to the Snow White story — the queen’s version and then the princess’s.

Why do I love these books? Many reasons, but for starters:

In many fairy tale retellings, the fairy tale structure is too obvious. Sure, maybe the story is set in a different time, but the overall story is preserved and presented more or less intact. In The Lunar Chronicles, the fairy tale framework is a supporting structure, but doesn’t dominate or force the story into a shape that restricts the characters or action in any way. So yes, in Cinder, there’s an unloved stepsister, a ball, and a handsome prince — but beyond that, there’s a plague, the second-class citizen status of cyborgs, and geopolitical maneuvering that goes way beyond a rags-to-riches love story.

Likewise, in Scarlet, we have a girl in a red hoodie seeking her grandmother and menaced by a wolf — but also a secret army, mind control, a Big Brother-ish tracking system, and desperate fugitives. In Cress, there’s a girl with long hair locked away, and a dashing hero who is blinded in the rescue attempt — but also space chases, gun battles, kidnappings, and royal subterfuge. The through-stories are never obscured by the fairy tale structure, so Cinder remains the key person of interest throughout the following books, even though the titles would indicate that they’re not about her.

What maybe doesn’t work for me quite as much is the over-emphasis on romance and coupledom. Clearly, with fairy tales as their base, the romance will not be ignored. Still, is it truly necessary for each book to match up its main character with her soulmate? This, I think, is where the fairy tale retelling maybe gets in the way a bit. With so much action, with the intrigue of this sci-fi world — full of new mechanical wonders, genetic mutations and manipulations, and political danger and strategy — we don’t necessarily need so many supercouples. By the end of Cress, there are three clearly defined couples — all of whom seem to have achieved instant soulmate status — and the love story of Winter has been more than hinted at as well.

There is some amazing fan art out there. This one is from -- check it out, there's lots more!

There is some amazing fan art out there. This one is from — check it out, there’s lots more!

The super-coupledom is really a minor issue, though. I’d call it a gnat-sized irritant in the midst of an absolute smorgasbord of sci-fi, futuristic, female-powered adventure. I love the ultra-imaginative world-building in this series, the distinctive voices of the characters, and the way that the shifting narrative viewpoints add on top of one another to keep expanding our knowledge of this world and all its hidden nooks and crannies.

If you’re a curmudgeonly old hold-out (like I was until about a week ago), resisting the hype and refusing to give in to yet another YA series craze… well, come on! If I can do it, so can you! Sure, I’m a little bent out of shape about having to wait for more, but *sigh* I’m sure I can find other books to read in the meantime.

And hey, if I need a dose of more of the Lunar Chronicles, I’m sure there are a thousand or so Pinterest boards to lose a few hours to.

Final note: The three short stories are all available free online, and are definitely worth checking out. Of the three, The Little Android actually broke my heart just a little. It’s a stand-alone, in that it does not include any characters from the main novels, but it is set in the same world. And it just happens to be a retelling of The Little Mermaid — the non-Disney version, which is one of the saddest fairy tales ever.

Don’t say I never did anything for you. Here are the links to the stories:
The Little Android
The Queen’s Army

And now, back to my resolution not to start any more series!

Until the next irresistible one comes along…

Thursday Quotables: Sunrise


Welcome back to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

Sunrise (Ashfall, #3)

Sunrise by Mike Mullin
(to be released April 15, 2014)

Sunrise is the final book in the Ashfall series, a powerful young adult trilogy in which a supervolcano explodes and turns most of the country into a snow- and ash-covered barren landscape. A band of survivors struggles to find a way to get by, but starvation, illness, and violence lurk around every corner.

And yet… it may be the end of the world as we know it, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a lighter moment once in a while:

“This foolish proposal illustrates why you should vote for experience over youth. Why you should return to office a trusted leader with almost a decade of experience leading this town. You can choose a man you know and trust or a boy who can’t even grow a proper beard yet.”

That was not exactly true. I couldn’t grow any kind of beard, let alone a proper one.

And on a more romantic note:

I took Darla in my arms, and she crushed me against her body. The world around us was frozen, quiet, and still, as if the last point of warmth in the universe burned between her chest and mine.

Intrigued? My blog tour post and review will be up this Saturday!

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (, if you’d be so kind!
  • Leave your link in the comments — or, if you have a quote to share but not a blog post, you can leave your quote in the comments too!
  • Visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!