Three for Thursday: Train Escapades

Every year there are some strange trends in the books that come out.  It can be a character name, a particular plot line, or an event in the story.  In this case I’ve read three books coming out this year that contain young people on a train who are being pursued by villains.  And this is only January!


The Glass Sentence by S. E. Grove (Viking, Expected Publication: June 2014)

Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

The first book in a trilogy, this debut is an ambitious alternate history fantasy epic set in a North American landscape.  In this world, some event has caused time to shatter, leaving entire geographical areas in different times, some thousands of years apart.  Sophia lives with her uncle in Boston in the 1890s.  Her uncle is training her in the illustrious and mysterious art of mapmaking so that the two of them might go in search of her parents who have been missing since she was young.  But when her uncle is kidnapped, Sophia finds herself on the run with a precious artifact and a dangerous set of villains dogging her steps.

Sophia and her new ally, Theo board a train in Boston to reach the Baldlands, but it quickly becomes apparent that strange thugs with facial scars are on the train looking for her.  While the train adventures only take up a part of this story, they’re certainly a vivid piece of the adventure!

This complex read has a lot of dark and violent moments, and I think legitimately belongs to the young adult arena more than middle-grade.  While I felt the world was fully realized and captured by the descriptive text, I felt less connected to the characters overall.  Readers get a sense of the characters competence and cleverness, but less sense of their emotional depth.  Quite a few of the secondary characters felt a bit too conveniently thrown in, and I think this did a disservice to such an epic style story.   The one exception to this would be our story villain who was one of the creepiest and most complex I’ve found in a while.  There’s quite a teaser at the end for the next book in the trilogy, and I’m more than willing to dive back in to Sophia’s adventures.  I just hope that the author will take the opportunity in the next book to explore the characters of Theo and Sophia in more detail. Lots of fun and interesting world building, but recommended for mature readers willing to encounter torture and violence.


The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson (Delacorte, Expected Publication: March 2014)

Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

From what I can tell this is the author’s first foray into children’s fantasy, though she’s done a fair share of adult fantasy writing.  This mixture of  otherworldly steampunk, science fiction and fantasy is an intriguing one.  The main part of our story takes place on a train, the 401.

Piper has lived her entire life in poverty, repairing machines and strange mechanisms found in the Meteor fields.  When one night leads her to discover a girl lying unconscious in the Fields, Piper rescues her.  The girl has no memory of who she is or where she comes from, but she bears the mark of the Dragonfly on her arm–proof that she’s from the Dragonfly territories and that there will be a reward in store for Piper if she can bring the girl back safely.  But getting to the Territories involves sneaking on board the 401 train and getting past the boy with green eyes who guards the train.

A story full of adventure and the fantastic, with a few twists and turns that younger readers might not expect.  The opening drags a little, especially since once the adventure kicks in, it, the ride is a fairly breathless one.  While adult and teen readers may guess the plot twists in advance, younger readers are sure to enjoy the story’s unfolding.  It’s unclear if this is meant to be a stand alone or if we’ll join our characters for other adventures in the future.  Either way this is a solid addition to the speculative fiction field.


The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel (Simon & Schuster, Expected Publication 2014)

Note: An advanced reader copy was provided by the publisher.

In this new alternate history adventure from veteran author Kenneth Oppel, Will Everett is in for the ride of a lifetime!

The Boundless is the most magnificent train ever built–it stretches for miles across the landscape and houses all sorts of passengers along it’s length.  First class passenger Will Everett witnesses a murder one dark night and now he’s on the run, desperate to stay ahead of the thugs after him.  The train’s traveling circus takes him in and hides him, but safety comes at a price.  Mr. Dorian will help Will reach first class and his father–but he requires something of Will in turn.  Running through train cars, dodging dangerous people, encountering supernatural creatures . . . it’s all part of Will’s ride on the maiden journey of The Boundless!

This is a well imagined book that I feel like I should have liked more than I did.  I have to admit that despite all the details and magnificent idea of a miles long train, I failed to ever strongly identify with the main characters or gain a vested interest in them.  This is a solid adventure story that has some great scenes and some fantastic elements of steam punk and fantasy, but it lacks a strong emotional impact.    Still, for those who love stories of alternate history, or adventure tales in general, this should be an enjoyable read.

So there you have it! If you spot any other books published in 2014 that have the same elements, let me know!  Comments welcome!

About Stephanie Whelan

I'm a children's librarian with a life-long love of all things science fiction and fantasy.

Posted on January 30, 2014, in Three for Thursdays and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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