Even in these times of gridlocked traffic and relatively cheap airfare, many travelers daydream about the lure of the open road. Whether inspired by Kerouac or Steinbeck or even Hunter S. Thompson, they still see something exciting about being able to jump in a car and go wherever serendipity takes them.

Maine native and former Cape Neddick resident Peter Clines, author of “The Fold” and the “Ex-Heroes” series of zombies-versus-superheroes novels, cranks the engine of his new cross-country fantasy saga in southern Maine and drives it to southern California and back with the pedal jammed to the metal.

When 8-year-old Eli Teague first meets Harry Pritchard by the side of the road in Sanders, Maine, he’s intrigued largely by the pristine Ford Model A that has run out of fuel. Harry, though, is dressed unusually, outfitted with a blue tricorne hat and a flintlock rifle. The boy observes: “He wore one of the old-timey outfits (even older than the car) that people wore for Fourth of July parades down in the Yorks or sometimes in Portsmouth.”

When Eli is 13, he encounters Harry again, and figures out (mostly by looking down her shirt), that he’s actually a woman named Harriet, one who claims to be on her way to “talk to a man about a dream.”

Harry’s Model A, operating with a thought-to-be mythical Garrett carburetor, seems to run on nothing but tap water. What’s more, the vehicle is capable of traveling backward and forward through history.

Harry never stays in one place very long, but Eli is captivated. Although he wouldn’t admit to it if asked, he spends his teens and 20s stuck in Sanders, a town that time seems to have left behind, waiting for Harry to appear again. He gets his wish in an unexpected way, leading him to quit his steady IT job at the local bank and embark on a mission to warn Harry of the dangers ahead.

In some aspects, the opening chapters of “Paradox Bound” resemble a standard set-up for a fantasy-quest novel, a Joseph Campbellian hero’s journey with all the expected mythological beats laid out so they can’t be missed. Clines, however, has a knack for surprising reversals. The plot loses its predictability as Eli and Harry travel farther across the country and skip across 200 years of American history.

Harry eventually clues Eli in on the nature of her quest, which involves the Founding Fathers, specifically Benjamin Franklin. Franklin used his influence as a Grand Master of the Freemasons to gather certain historical documents and religious texts to design a ritual that would inspire the citizens of the colonies to rally behind the idea of creating a new nation.

Harry explains, “They summoned Ptah, the Egyptian god of creation. The blacksmith god. And they came to an accord, which resulted in him forging a dream for them. The American Dream.”

Eli wants to know more: “It’s an actual thing that a group of Freemasons had a god make for them so they could convince everyone in the country to leave England?” Harry indicates that that is the gist of the matter. Although the details are hazy, the premise is that whoever controls the American Dream controls the political will of the nation. The dream has gone missing, though, and Harry and other peripatetic “searchers” are determined to find it and return it to its proper place.

Clines ably captures the appeal of the open road in a variety of time periods and provides textured portraits of selected searchers. They range from legendary trainman John Henry to movie star James Dean to Alice Ramsey, the first woman to drive across the United States. And they demonstrate the diversity of those who pursue the American Dream.

Successful gold prospector Henry “Frank” Hawkins, who set off from Maine to California at age 14, makes an important appearance. He provides some valuable clues, and in the book’s afterword is revealed to be none other than Clines’s great-great-grandfather.

No quest is complete without a formidable villain. Eli, Harry and their colleagues are pursued by nearly unstoppable foes, government agents known as “the faceless men.” Their facial features are completely covered, but if they get close enough to their quarry, they’re able to sense precisely where they are. The faceless men are, as Harry says, “certain of everything within about 300 feet.”

“Paradox Bound” is Eli’s story. He’s the one who changes the most and plays the most crucial role in the narrative’s resolution. But it’s pragmatic, resourceful and highly capable Harry who will capture readers’ hearts. No matter where in history she lands, she’s someone with whom you’d want to take a cross-country trip, if it weren’t for the creeps who keep shooting at her. Her sly and sometimes cryptic banter with Eli keeps the plot moving seamlessly during some of its down moments.

It’s a genuine pleasure to read an ambitious fantasy novel that feels self-contained in a single volume. At the end of “Paradox Bound,” the door is left open for further adventures, but there’s no cheesy cliffhanger. What remains is the satisfaction that comes from a complicated and innovative story well-told.

With “Paradox Bound,” Clines takes the time-travel thriller for a spin, puts it through some impressive paces and brings it home with style to spare.

Berkeley writer Michael Berry is a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, native who has contributed to Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, New Hampshire Magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books and many other publications. He can be contacted at:

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