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The Lost Expedition by Douglas Smith

Reviewed by Robert Runté

The Lost Expedition is the third and final volume in the Dream Rider trilogy. The first two novels, (The Hollow Boys, reviewed in ORB November 2022, and The Crystal Key, reviewed May 2023) were wildly successful, garnering critical acclaim including an Aurora Award and a juried IPA award. If you haven’t already read the first two Dream Rider books, you need to start there; if you’re already read those, I won’t need to sell you on this one because you will have already been waiting for answers and lined up for this one.

The story concerns rich comic artist,18-year-old Will; his street-wise girl-friend, Chase; and her kid brother, Fader. All three have mysterious but limited powers that have allowed them to enter dreams and move between the worlds of the multiverse, battling an as yet unidentified villain or power. The central mystery is to find out what happened eight years ago that caused their parents to go missing, and their powers to manifest. Thus, the search for the lost expedition.

I compared the first volume to a superhero comic or a graphic novel—sans graphics; I compared the second to the thrill of a 1950s movie serial, once a regular part of Saturday matinées. This time, The Lost Expedition put me in mind of A Wrinkle in Time. Both books are about the conflict between order and chaos, both place unreasonable demands on their young protagonists, both have the same sweeping scope that engages one’s sense of wonder. Evoking the same emotional response, The Lost Expedition took me back sixty years to the exact weekend I discovered A Wrinkle in Time and the forgotten memory of reading in the dark after lights out.

Looking back as an adult, though, I far prefer Smith’s world building and politics to Madeleine L’Engle’s. Smith has written a series that is far more inclusive and far less elitist than L’Engle’s. Smith’s characters represent different social classes, ethnicities, abilities and weaknesses. The Dream Rider series is targeted to today’s modern YA audience and so better suited to current sensibilities. Whoever reads this book will find at least one POV character with whom they can identify.

Which is not to say The Lost Expedition doesn’t have a few flaws. I was annoyed and distracted early on by a logical flaw in the plot, only partially mitigated by the characters recognizing that inconsistency themselves twenty pages on, and that was therefore an important clue. I was similarly annoyed that one of the characters, Nix, can only remember key facts when it is time for the next clue to be handed out—again, somewhat mitigated by a reasonable explanation in the denouement. Withholding key information from the reader in a mystery feels like a bit of a cheat, even though Smith eventually explains why and the reader has to grudgingly admit it all makes sense. Still, waiting until the end to explain everything from all three books in the final chapters of this one meant the denouement went on a bit too long after the grand climax. Indeed, there are several occasions throughout the novel when the characters get bogged down explaining things to each other while the action grinds to a stop.

Notwithstanding these minor reservations, The Lost Expedition is a solid ending to a great series. The various mysteries are finally revealed in all their intricate complexity; there are several twists I totally did not see coming; and there is a sweeping majesty to the world building we have not seen since—well, since A Wrinkle in Time.

Marathoning all three books at once is probably best, so that one can keep all the fiddly bits of the mystery in mind and so that the denouement in book three becomes proportionate to the series as a whole. If you haven’t done so already, you should package up all three volumes to gift to any young adults in your life—or any adult in your circle nostalgic for the Golden Age of science fiction fantasy.

The Lost Expedition is published by Spiral Path Books.


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