SS Taylor and Katherine Roy's adventurous YA series continues in a second volume that gets everything right: it's a steampunked alternate history story that's full of intrigue and light-touch, thoughtful critique of imperialism and colonialism, a story that lets you love your pith helmet while still questioning all that it stands for. Cory Doctorow (who loved book one) reviews the second Expeditioners book.

In 2013's The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man's Canyon, we were introduced to Kit, MK, and Zander West, whose father, Alexander West, was a legendary explorer in an alternate universe where civilization has been rebuilt after a mysterious failure of all the world's computers, where new lands have seemingly sprung into existence, sparking a worldwide era of colonization in which great powers vie to bring these territories under their flags.

Taylor's world manages to be both dystopian and enticing all at once. The heroic Explorers are gadget-freaks who create custom vests and utility belts bristling with the coolest inventions; they work in teams with deadly (but wisecracking) cyborg animals, and travel the globe discovering astounding new life-forms, foodstuffs, and peoples.

But colonialism always implies a jackboot, and the world of Kit, MK and Zander is no exception: they are haunted by secret agents, a corrupt state that is riven by suspicion, spies and surveillance, and there is always the sense that there is some extraordinary brutality taking place in these "newly discovered lands" that are prized above all else.

In book two, the Wests have been sent off to an explorer's academy where they learn everything from geography to swordfighting to animal husbandry, and are all preparing to mount the student expeditions that serve as a final assignment for graduating students. In the midst of this, a — highly suspicious — attempt on a senior official's life plunges the school into paranoia and suspicion, as internal security officers are brought in to root out potential traitors in the student body.

In this climate of jingoism and mistrust, the mysterious visitors from the first book once again visit Kit with more messages from his lost father, more clues for the children to follow as they unravel the ancient mysteries of the secret Mapmaker's Guild that they're pretty sure their father belonged to.

As with book one, Triton's Lair is an absolutely cracking yarn, the pure strain of kids' adventure tales. And as with the first book, this is an absolutely gorgeous volume, with beautiful, two-sided jacket art, full-color printed boards, and dynamic, artful black-and-white illustrations throughout. Together with book one, it would make a wonderful gift for a lucky kid — or a lucky grownup.

The Expeditioners and the Secret of King Triton's Lair

-Cory Doctorow