K. M. Tolan: Tracks

K.M. Tolan’s Tracks is a far more complex and layered novel than I was expecting from its blurb, and it deserves more attention than it seems to have received. The story follows Vincent, a young man living on the edge of society in a rather grim world, haunted by the disappearance of his little sister (which he witnessed and may have caused) and his father, both tied to ghostly train tracks and vanishing steam engines.

Ten years after those disappearances, Vincent stumbles into a search for his sister and finds himself in Hobohemia, the mysterious and mythical land connecting diverging worlds—and world Tracksviews. Anchored here and there by its hobo jungles and rail yards, Hobohemia is under attack by the forces of Taylorism, with its assembly lines and diesel trains. Vincent is caught up in the conflict as he learns he is, like his father, a gandy dancer, able to call up living rails and the steam trains that run on them—but at a cost. Along the way he meets steam children, hobo knights, monstrous yeggs, and the rebellious (and very dangerous) daughter of a railroad baron.

Hobohemia is full of the mythology of railroading and American folklore; Tracks is capped by a dark and dangerous trip to the Big Rock Candy Mountain. I’d be hard pressed to categorize the novel—adventure, fantasy, steampunk, romance, alternate history? All that and more, as Vincent explores Hobohemia and the lands he passes through, and revisits the elements of his family: his bitter, reality-bound mother, his long-lost sister, and his father, stuck on the Westbound Train.

Tolan’s world-building moves so fast and explains so little that I sometimes wondered just where I was—but so did Vincent. The borders of Hobohemia are ephemeral, and I was left wondering if those ghost trains run through the back roads of this world, too.

This is a really good book. Give it a try.

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