Book review

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (2004)

There's a great hero in this book. Matt Cruse. He's the cabin boy on board the luxury airship, the Aurora. He loves the ship and he loves his job, and he's got a fair expectation of being made junior sailmaker soon.

And he's one of those people that adventures just happen to, so we shouldn't be surprised that it's on Matt's watch in the crow's nest one night that he spies something unusual, drifting in the night sky:

Then I saw it.
Or didn't see it. Because at first, all I noticed was a blackness where stars should have been. I raised my spyglass again, and with the help of the moon, caught a glimpse.
It was a hot-air balloon, hanging there in the night sky.
Its running lights weren't on, which was odd.

It's the opening incident in a dramatic tale of discovery and adventure, exploration and piracy. For although Matt manages more or less single-handedly to rescue the distressed balloon and bring it on board the Aurora, he is too late to save the life of the injured pilot.

Is the pilot raving and deluded in his final moments?

'Did you see them?' he asked me, his voice scratchy.
'Who?' I wondered if he was thinking clearly.
'Sailing. All around,' he said. It took him a long time to get the words out, swallowing and giving little coughs between words. 'Probably always. Been there. Only no one's. Ever. Seen them.'
He tried to get up, pushing with his elbows like he had somewhere pretty important to go, but he didn't have the strength, and he sank back down. He turned to me again, swallowed.
'But you. Must've seen them.'
It seemed important to him so I lied.
'Yes,' I said. 'I saw them too.'
'Good,' he said, and that seemed to calm him down some. 'Beautiful creatures,' he said, smiling. 'They were. Beautiful.'

Matt might never have discovered what the pilot had been raving about that night but for a fortunate coincidence the following year when the beautiful Kate de Vries travels on the airship Aurora, first class. True, she's rich and used to having her own way, but she's also rather beautiful, and about the same age as Matt Cruse. And Kate is travelling for a purpose, which seems to include the cabin boy... They're a well-matched pair, full of spirit and imagination, and they certainly get things done.

If you want to know what they get up to exactly you'll have to read the book. And I'll warn you now, it's one of those books that's difficult to put down until you've finished with it. Highly recommended!

What can I read next?

Kenneth Oppel has written many books, including the favourite Silverwing trilogy. It's rather different from Airborn, but highly recommended if you get on well with talking animals:

Boys' adventures. I love them! If you enjoy slinking round in the shadows and fighting off pirates then I think you might like to look at this classic by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Or you could have a look at this brilliantly swashbuckling trilogy, the High Seas Adventures by Iain Lawrence:

You might also like to look at these great books by Philip Reeve:

Also, the Bookchooser has found these books with a similar profile:

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