Book One of The Expeditioners
By S. S. Taylor
Illustrated by Katherine Roy
Available now from McSweeney's McMullens
I think steampunk now has a cousin. I'm not sure what you would call that cousin - explorationpunk? - but THE EXPEDITIONERS AND THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN'S CANYON definitely shares blood with steampunk. There's the alternate history aspect. In the Expeditioners world, there was a certain machine that never existed in our world. The machine eventually led to the discovery of new lands and a longer-lasting age of imperialism. There's the fashion aspect. Explorers wear vests equipped with all sorts of nifty gadgets. But The Expeditioners is a different beast. No steam in sight.
Kit, Zander, and M. K.'s father, Alexander West, recently went missing and is assumed dead. But they knew where their father intended to go, and it wasn't where the government told them he died. When a mysterious man delivers a book to Kit, government agents start poking around the kids' business. In turn, they decide to investigate their father's belongings more closely. There's half of a map that's clearly important, and no one can decode Alexander West's secrets better than his children. They set out to find the other half of the map and go to where it leads.
THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN'S CANYON will appeal to fans of adventure stories. There's a nice balance in genders - once the children meet up with Sukey, there are two girls and two boys. Sukey and M. K. are just as tough as the boys and both have important skills that aid the group's quest. (No, neither of them are medics.) Kit, the brainy one, is also the narrator. Thus, I think girls and guys can enjoy the book. But THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN'S CANYON goes deeper than most adventure stories and asks questions about who owns the treasure. It seems like The Expeditioners will be a series not only interested in unexplored places, but also the people who live in those places and what will happen to them if they are discovered.
But that doesn't mean THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN'S CANYON avoids the tropes of adventure stories. There are lots of puzzles, and I love a story with puzzles. There are chase scenes and crash scenes and scenes with newly discovered species that are not friendly. I was, at points, strongly reminded of Jules Verne. And in my opinion that is a good thing.
Katherine Roy's art will help to draw in readers who might be daunted by the size of the book. (320 pages at a larger-than-standard trim size.) Her style is quite geometric and stylized, but not in an offputtingly arty way. The way she shades reminds me of topographic maps, which is quite fitting in a novel where cartography plays a large role in the plot.
I think THE TREASURE OF DROWNED MAN'S CANYON was a good beginning to the series. I felt like the characters fit fairly stereotypical roles, but there's room for growth. However, other parts of the novel were very developed. S. S. Taylor spent a lot of time developing the Expeditioners' world, and I'm eager to see more of it. The novel certainly ends with an interesting change in the Expeditioners' lives. (The next book might involve boarding school! I love fictional boarding schools!) I'm also intrigued by the fact Alexander West may be alive and hiding. The Expeditioners seems like it will have a strong story holding together the separate adventures, something I am definitely in favor of.
I liked this one, and strongly recommend it. Partially because in addition to a fun story the book is really pretty. And the cover turns over to become a poster! Who doesn't love posters?