The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon: The Expeditioners, Book 1

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon: The Expeditioners, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Gripping adventure of intrepid siblings in steampunk world.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The Expeditioners is rich in atmospheric detail, with fun and not-so-fun looks at the possibilities of alternate technology in a world with no computers or electricity. Kids will enjoy figuring out the points at which the book's world (which is physically like ours) diverges from the reality we know, and why (e.g. much of the action takes place in an undiscovered part of Arizona). Understanding and following maps is an essential skill, as is deciphering code.

Positive Messages

Teamwork, bravery, quick thinking, and loyalty all come into play, as does the determination to do the right thing even when it seems impossible.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The West kids are very different from one another, and their skills and interests all prove essential as the adventure unfolds. Zander, Kit, M.K., and their friend Sukey are all smart, brave, and good at creative thinking in a crisis. They're also far more thoughtful and kind than their adversaries, who are only interested in power and money.

Violence

The kids are in constant danger from their pursuers and face hazards from forces of nature and hostile natives. One of the adult good guys is killed in an exchange with the bad guys; both girls are very handy with weapons, from guns and knives to flamethrowers, which they use to defend themselves and otherwise get out of perilous situatons. Both West parents have died before the story starts; the parrot Pucci was captured in the wild and had his legs amputated and replaced with weaponry.

Sex

Both Zander and Kit are smitten with their companion Sukey and a beautiful girl they meet in their explorations, but it doesn't go farther than holding hands and Kit putting his arm around Sukey when they're on guard duty.

Language

Very occasional "damn."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, the first installment in a series, is an exciting adventure with strong, appealing boy and girl characters that takes place in an alternative world in which computers no longer exist, nor does electricity. It's all steam engines and clockwork, and the United States and its allies have embarked on a whole new era of colonization and exploitation. As the kids follow a map left by their late father, they're often in danger from hostile government agents, and at least one adult character is killed in a violent clash. Aside from the occasional "damn," language isn't a problem. Lots of thought-provoking issues arise, including the impact of exploration on indigenous people who just want to be left alone, and the cruel exploitation of animals.

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What's the story?

Ever since their explorer father was declared dead on his last adventure, the West kids -- Zander, the oldest; Christopher (Kit), who shares his dad's passion for maps; and M.K., who's rarely seen without either a wrench or a knife in her hand -- have been trying to eke out an existence in what's left of the family home. When a mysterious stranger with a clockwork hand slips Kit a book that proves to contain part of a map from their late father, the kids are determined to explore the territory and find what their dad was trying to tell them. Unfortunately, hordes of sinister government agents also want the map and don't care what they have to do to get it. Fortunately, the kids make some excellent friends along the way.

Is it any good?

Between Taylor's fast-moving, appealing tale and Katherine Roy's plentiful illustrations that bring the characters to life, this book has a lot to offer readers young and old. As the kids try to outrun and outwit their pursuers, all while dealing with dark caves, day-glo slugs, giant vultures, and other hazards, there's plenty of age-appropriate excitement.

There's also plenty of opportunity for readers to consider ethical issues -- the destruction of cultures and the theft of their resources by "explorers," cruel exploitation of animals, and the value of loyal friends. Plus the intriguing notion that maps are always wrong because they depict only what we already know about. The book's ending leaves readers wanting more, resolving some issues and setting up further adventures.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why there's such a fascination in contemporary literature with alternate worlds in which technology is based on steam and clockwork, and why such a world might exist.

  • Do you agree with Zander that it was evil to turn the parrot Pucci into a war machine by removing assorted body parts and substituting mechanical ones? How does Pucci repay Zander's kindness?

  • What do you think of The Expeditioners' notion that maps are never really accurate because they assume we've explored everything there is to explore?

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