Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.
“My heart purred to the vibrations of the Aurora‘s engines. There were other fine ships, I knew, and some perhaps ever grander than the Aurora. But only she could fuel my dreams.”
Fifteen year old Matt Cruse is dedicated and determined, but he’s a dreamer, too. He feels claustrophobic on land, living for the clouds and time spent soaring through the sky, waiting for his shot to captain an airship of his own. I was thoroughly impressed from the start with the mechanical intelligence he possessed, but moreso with his passion for the Aurora, which he displayed with the care he took in helping to maintain her. For some, learning about the Hydrium that powers the ship might be tedious, and the way all the little details lead off the story might not be ideal for everyone, but it drew me in.
For whatever reason, I can’t help but think of a luxury airship as being romantic, and Oppel’s description of various parts of the ship did nothing to dispel that thought. Take Matt’s visit to Captain Walken’s quarters:
His cabin was small but comfortable, with a single bed, a desk, and two leather armchairs studded with brass bolts. He had a private washroom and, instead of the usual portholes, a large bow window. Sunlight bathed the room, warming the wood of his bookshelves and the desk behind which he was sitting.
Can you see the sunlight? I can almost smell the warmth of that space. And that window? I think I could sit in front of it for hours. Oppel makes you really understand why Matt loves the ship so much, why he values the hardwork it takes to keep her in the air. I guess that, overall, that was big thing for me with Airborn: the descriptions.
And it was funny, I loved Matt so much that I almost resented Kate de Vries’ presence aboard the Aurora. She was strong and willful, and as determined as Matt was to fly, Kate was determined to succeed and do things that weren’t typically thought of as ladylike at the time. The immediate connection between Matt and Kate was reasonable, despite their class differences, because of a shared person in their past: Kate’s grandfather. And so, okay, maybe that made me begrudge her a little less. Maybe.
Oppel paced the action so that it sort of ebbed and flowed throughout the novel. There were run-ins with air pirates, mysterious winged-mammals, damages to the ship, and a screechy chaperone that seriously got on my nerves. All that pretty much translates into a lot of appeal.
Once my reading schedule has settled down a bit – meaning my course is nearing an end – I will definitely be reading Skybreaker. I want to see how Matt fares at the airship academy. And maybe even how Kate is making out.