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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

THE LOST KINGDOM (audiobook) by Matthew J. Kirby

Published by Scholastic Audio in 2013.
Read by Charlie McWade
Duration: 8 hours, 41 minutes

The Lost Kingdom is an alternate history set in a world in which mastodons still roam North America in great herds and are hunted by giant predators called bearwolves. The story is set just before the French and Indian War and the situation is easily recognizable for anyone familiar with that time period. The English colonies arranged along the Eastern Seaboard but the interior is largely controlled by the French and their numerous Indian allies through a vast trading network. As the English move farther inland they encounter more and more resistance and everyone knows that it will lead to open warfare, probably sooner rather than later.

In a bold move to secure a new set of allies in the interior, the American Philosophical Society, a group of intellectuals led by Benjamin Franklin, have decided to send an expedition in search of a fabled Welsh kingdom built around the legendary tale of Madoc, the Welsh prince who is supposed to have landed in the America's centuries before Columbus. This really is a legend in our world, so I found that to be quite interesting.

The intellectuals are joined by the son of their botanist, a young teen named Billy Bartram. They are not traveling by boat or by foot but in a sort of steampunk airship powered by balloons of some kind. The ship is an actual ship and it flies much like a blimp. They fly out to the new fort at what will be Pittsburgh in the distant future (barely escaping French spies as they leave Philadelphia). A sneak attack by French Marines and an encounter with a bearwolf throw the entire expedition off track. Throw in the suspicion that there is a spy in their midst and things have really gone wrong for Billy and this crew of geniuses...

****Spoiler alert****

So, here's the thing for me and this book. I do not mind the steampunk ship or the mastadons or even the legend of the Welsh. I think those made the book fun. But, I have a problem when the book violates its own internal rules and here are three gigantic errors that just don't make sense.

1) The expedition sets off without a single weapon in a time period when people of the frontier did not step out of the house to feed their chickens without a gun at hand. They did this out of fear of Indians and also fear of animal attack. To borrow from another story, imagine if in The Hobbit the expedition set out without a single sword because they knew that swords would be useless against the dragon. Well, that would be silly considering how often they had to fight everything else along the way. In a similar way, the lack of weapons means they cannot defend themselves from animals. Also, they cannot hunt to supplement their food which is a massive mistake in and of itself. This mistake compounds itself

2) The expedition has no weapons because they claim they are a science expedition, not a military one. But, in reality, they are out to find out if the legend of the Welsh is true and make a military alliance with them. That makes them a military expedition.

3) The expedition is attacked by a bearwolf just outside of Pittsburgh. The bearwolf chases the very fast-moving ship on land, somehow tracking it over mountains, across rivers and streams through the little sliver of what is now West Virginia, all along the bottom of Ohio, Indiana, across the Wabash river into Illinois and even across the Mississippi River in some crazed single-minded pursuit of this group so it can attack them for reasons that are never stated. But, really, what animal chases a group of people for hundreds and hundreds of miles?

****End spoilers****

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5. I couldn't get past the internal contradictions. It can be found on Amazon here: The Lost Kingdom.

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