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Airborn    by Kenneth Oppel order for
by Kenneth Oppel
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2004 (2004)

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

My son introduced me to Kenneth Oppel's Silverwing trilogy, which I enjoyed very much. I liked Airborn even more. It's set in a world, in which blimp-like airships rule the skies, traversing them in a fashion reminiscent of the age of sailing ships, used for passenger transportation and commerce.

How did this come about? Their technology exploits a much lighter than air gas named 'hydrium', with a slight smell of mangoes (don't forget this, as it matters to the plot). Young impoverished hero Matt Cruse is cabin boy on the airship which was his father's before his death - the Aurora's crew has become Matt's extended family. Matt knows his ship, is disciplined and brave. Early in the story, he risks his life to help a dying old man in a hot air balloon. In a brief moment of consciousness, the old man asks 'Did you see them?' and speaks of 'Beautiful creatures' and of Kate.

One year later, young, attractive Kate de Vries shows up as a rich passenger, accompanied by a demanding chaperone. Matt and Kate hit it off on their first meeting, and he soon learns that she has come on the voyage in the hope of seeing what her grandfather saw. At the same time, the ship takes on a new junior sailmaker, Bruce Lunardi, whose father has awarded him the promotion that Matt had earned. Though resentful, Matt has to acknowledge that Lunardi is likeable, and does not take advantage of his father's position. Matt eventually learns that Bruce's life is not as enviable as he believed.

Readers accompany the Aurora into airborn adventure involving ruthless pirates, a new species discovery that would have done credit to Darwin (large, winged 'cloud cats' with some similarities to bats, of course), elements of a young Hornblower's deduction and daring, and a Titanic romance. It's fast, non-stop adventure at its most engaging, with moments of extreme peril and of tragedy. Matt makes a new friend, who may well become more as the series unfolds, and he finally learns that he does not have 'to keep flying' away from his father's loss.

Kenneth Oppel's always in his element in the air, and he's surpassed himself with Airborn. I can't wait for a sequel, and hope that it's soon!

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