The crew all joked I had seagull bones, hollow in the center to allow for easy flight. [… D]eep in my heart, I felt that if I were ever to fall, the air would support me, hold me aloft, just as surely as it did a bird with spread wings.
As the luxury airship Aurora embarks for Sydney, fifteen-year-old cabin boy Matt Cruse has high hopes of being promoted to Assistant Sailmaker: the first step towards one day captaining his own vessel. When a privileged millionaire’s son receives the position instead, though, it is just the beginning of Matt’s problems. After being raided by pirates, thrown off course by a sudden storm, and marooned on an uncharted island, it is unclear whether the Aurora‘s crew and passengers will even reach their destination alive.
But for the wealthy and outspoken Kate de Vries, aspiring zoologist, the detour seems an ideal opportunity to track down the elusive airborne creatures her grandfather observed in these very skies. For Kate to prove their existence would be an incredible discovery … so long as Matt can keep her from getting herself killed in the process, and hopefully without sacrificing his own ambitions.
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Oppel evokes a world on the brink of new frontiers and discoveries, an alternate early-20th century where airplanes have not been invented but other forms of air travel abound. Matt Cruse is a likeable protagonist, straightforward and capable, very much a modern-day Jim Hawkins; Kate is the wind that drives him forward, keeping him on edge and active, while being a strong female character in her own right.
I feel like Airborn is something I haven’t come across in a good long while. Reading it was like rediscovering that first, archetypal adventure story, the tale that first inspired you to imagine something beyond the prosaic settings of your own childhood and upbringing (you know which story I’m talking about). The book probably won’t strike everyone quite that way, but I really did enjoy it that much. I consider it one of the great adventure stories of this generation, and definitely worth a read-through.
By the by, I quite enjoyed audiobook version of Airborn (this was my second time reading it). Though some of the character lines are a bit overacted on occasion, the youthful voice of David Kelly providing the main narration is a refreshing change from the low, gravely rumble that seems to be so much in fashion among male narrators these days.
My Grade: A