The first two books earned five star ratings from me. Despite the fact that this book is much, much, MUCH better, I deducted one star.
Chessie was a cute railroad kitten napping under some blankets. Naming a villain after the most adorable railroad mascot, and by far the best-designed railroad herald (that's trainspeke for "logo") of all, is a heresy I cannot forgive! Despite being primarily a Pennsy man, both the Chesapeake & Ohio and the later Chessie System have always appealed to me -- and most of the reason is the cat. As an artist, I can't help but admire the genius of the silhouette of the sleeping kitten in the negative space inside the letter "C." While Chessie is by far the best villain of this series, the choice of name could, I think, have been better thought through.
This third story is far and away the best of three excellent efforts. Both the villain and protagonist are far from the archetypical characters in the previous books. Both are conflicted, utterly convinced that they are on the side of good, fighting to avoid literally becoming the hate-filled monsters they believe themselves to be.
The book speaks to current events, as well. While the other books have set Hobohemia up as a magical hobo utopia (maybe it should have been named Hobotopia instead?), this book firmly cements it as a place where people might love trains, but people themselves are far more important. Certainly WAY more important than profits and share prices. Personal worth is not measured in dollars and shares in Hobohemia, but in actions and how good a person you are. Even though, as we see, even the most innocent of Steam Children can be corrupted into an ugly Yegg. Fantastically idyllic, but not perfect.
There was one other thing I disliked in this book. All the way through, it felt like a conclusion. While that definitely helps the underlying story arc, I hope it also does not mean the author is done with Hobohemia. I want more! This is *exactly* the sort of fantasy story I have wanted all my life. More! More! One question I still have is how Vincent and Samantha wond up rearing such awful kids. What went wrong? There's at least another story there, and I want to read it!
Hobohemia is more than a dream, an illusion to Alex Kiefer. It is the only reality he can accept, once he learns the truth about his family, his heritage and knows exactly what sits in his own backyard.
After he acquires the specs for a steam locomotive that will outperform any diesel engine on the tracks, he must get to the Baldwin factory to turn the plan into reality. With an opposition determined to stop him at all costs, Alex must fight his only remaining living relative for the right to use those precious plans. He sees them as his heritage. His aunt sees them as a threat to her way of life. If he fails, she wins. If she wins, steam trains will die…and so will the magic of Hobohemia. Is Alex enough of a warrior to succeed?
Knight of the Open Road is an entrancing tale of derring-do, of Steam Children, of magic, and the romance of steam on the rails.