Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Genres: YA Adventure, Fantasy, Steampunk
Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the airship Aurora, a luxury liner ferrying wealthy people from one place to another. It’s the life he’s always wanted; his father was a sailmaker and he believes he’s lighter than air. After rescuing a dying old man from a balloon wreck, he is told that there are beautiful creatures in the sky, ones that humans (except him) have never seen before. Skeptical, Matt learns that the man died the next day.
A year later, Kate de Vries goes aboard the Aurora, intending to see what her grandfather saw when he set out on a balloon expedition. Only after befriending her, and surviving a pirate attack can Matt start to believe that what the old man said could be true.
Kenneth Oppel is an amazing writer. I had the pleasure of meeting him a while back at a festival over here, where he was promoting Half Brother, another book of his. Since it was a festival, and he’s a pretty big deal, along with the fact that there were hundreds of people there, I was mainly ignored after he autographed my paper, even after I said that I loved his books. Hurts. Anyway, I read Airborn during Grade 5; it was totally awesome, so I immediately read the second book that I got from the library with Airborn (by the way, “airborn” is not a typo). I freaked out when I found out we didn’t have Starclimber, and it was this huge deal for me because it was like, the big finale where your mind will probably explode of awesomeness. Just saying.
One of the main reasons why I really liked this book was because it was from a guy’s perspective. I haven’t mentioned this before, because I realized it just now. It’s balancing to read from his point of view, because I find that usually in books girls portray things differently than guys do, especially if it’s in first person. I find that usually, if the protagonist is a teen girl living in the present (even if she’s in a paranormal book, as long as she’s a teenager), then the chances are pretty good that there’s going to be a boy introduced sooner or later, or there already is a boy, and she just spends time thinking about him, and other things that are typically on a stereotype-fitting teen girl’s mind. Sometimes it’s good to take a breather from that, and lose yourself in other perspectives.
The plot was great; although since I read it a couple years ago and I read it again recently, I can’t recall exactly when I was surprised. It had all the makings of a great plot. When the book started, it was already exciting, because Matt was on crow’s nest duty, and had sighted the failing hot air balloon. It was also he who had to swing out of the crane in midair, more than a couple thousand feet high. So already then, you’re on the edge of your seat, waiting to see what happens (obviously he makes it; why else would the book be more than 300 pages?). When Mr. Oppel feeds you the plot, everything’s paced excellently. There were no drags, as far as I could tell, and nothing was resolved too quickly and left me unsatisfied. The climax was nail-biting, thrilling, and eye-widening. In relation to other books, the climax was longer, although people could have different thoughts on when it began and ended. Nevertheless, it’s exciting.
Matt and Kate are awesome. Kate is, in my opinion, an awesome role model for girls. She’s headstrong, intelligent, and independent. Sneaky, too; she outwitted her dry chaperone many times in Airborn. Matt is brave, realistic, and ambitious. He doesn’t seem like the perfect hero with no flaws and will save the damsel in distress (like Kate would let him), which is why I like him. He’s also very comfortable in his surroundings, and has always believed that he belonged in the sky. Like I said before, he’s realistic, so he’s got problems of his own, like how he’ll support his mother and sisters home in Lionsgate City (he’s Canadian, and Kate comes from Lionsgate City, too), because his father died on the job and he’s the main breadwinner in the family. A couple times you see that Matt gets jealous of Bruce Lunardi, the son of the owner of the manufacturer of the Aurora, especially since he took the position that Matt wanted, he’s rich, apparently handsome, and he knew Kate before Matt did.
There’s some romance in this book, mainly between Matt and Kate. It’s not really focused on much, because the main plot is different, and I don’t even think that it’s a major subplot. It’s the second one, in my opinion. Mr. Oppel drops hints, though, that Matt likes Kate. I won’t be a spoilsport and tell you what happens in the end, except that they keep in touch.
The setting is really unique. I don’t know if there’s an official word for it, because it seems like it’s in a different universe, where some things have changed, like the fact that airships are there instead of airplanes, there’s a ship called the Titanica, and there are places like Europa, and the some of the oceans are called Atlanticus and Pacificus. It’s familiar, but different at the same time. It’s not a dystopia, or a utopia. Also, you can’t really put a finger on when it happens. All I can figure out is that it’s not in present day, because life seems simpler and it isn’t muddled with the technology that we have today.
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel is an awesome book. If you like steampunk, fantasy and adventure, you will not be disappointed! Airborn will leave you amazed, and if you liked that one, you’ll love Skybreaker and Starclimber! I will definitely review those.