fiction favorites…Around the World in 100 Days

Around the World in 100 Days, by Gary L. Blackwood

Harry certainly did not need to be reminded of his past transgressions, which had increased in severity as he increased in age.  At six he had taken apart his father’s pocket watch to see what made it tick — or rather what had once made it tick.  When he was eight, the family lost a perfectly capable housemaid after she discovered the carcass of a cat boiling on the back of the stove.  To Harry’s credit, the animal had been dead when he found it; he had planned to salvage the bones and assemble them like skeletons at the Natural History Museum…Since an early age he had been fascinated by machinery, and especially by vehicles — everything from windup toy helicopters to bicycles to electric submersible boats.  His parents had tried diligently to steer him into more gentlemanly pursuits such as riding and shooting, but Harry continued to prefer gadgets to guns and horseless carriages to horses.

Harry’s surname is Fogg.  As in Phileas Fogg, his famous father and 80-day traveler.  Two decades have passed since Phileas arrived breathlessly at the Reform Club, winning the wagers made against his seemingly impossible journey.  Now, his son impetuously enters into a high-stakes venture himself:  he must drive his new-fangled horseless carriage, Flash, around the globe in 100 days, or lose both  £6000 and, perhaps worse, his father’s permission to keep on tinkering with these ridiculous machines.

The year is 1891 and Harry is convinced, despite a good deal of public opinion to the contrary, that horseless carriages are the wave of the future.  Three companions join him for this crazy promotional escapade — Johnny, his handy, mechanical buddy; Charles, sent along to ensure fair play; and Elizabeth, a plucky young journalist .  Their journey takes them across the United States, then China, Siberia, Russia, and Europe.  Along the way they encounter a prairie fire and a typhoon, angry Luddite mobs and Cossack outlaws, mechanical breakdowns and a shadowy saboteur.   It is a relentless series of misfortunes and narrow escapes, threatening rogues and friends in unlikely places, narrated in a lighthearted, optimistic voice, sprinkled with Charlie’s journal entries and Elizabeth’s newspaper columns. 

There are quite a few historical tidbits lurking in this book which the author does not spell out for you.  On the one hand, I wish he had included an author’s note drawing the readers’ attention to these.  On the other hand, as my daughter said, it’s a bit like discovering hidden treasure for yourself.  Equipped with a good dose of curiosity and Google, you can discover a number of interesting people and articles that place the story in a delightful historical setting, if you will look for them.  Hint:  one involves a syrupy patent medicine…be sure to find out what that really is!

This story is  a fun, well-written caper.  Harry does wrestle  with his multi-ethnic heritage — he is half British, half Indian — and the prejudic he experiences because of that, as well as the challenge of making his own way in the world despite a famous father.  These elements add some depth to the story, but for the most part, it’s sheer adventure.  Great book for boys, though girls will enjoy it just as much.  At 345 pages, and with no illustrations, it’s a middle-grade novel or a delightful read-aloud.

Here’s the Amazon link:  Around the World in 100 Days