Before Kate, I’d never thought much about money. I did now. I thought of money all the time. It was everywhere. I saw banknotes and coins flashing between the gloved fingers of gentlemen and ladies, brighter than gold ingots. I saw money in my fellow students at the Academy, in their clothes and shoes and pens. I saw it gleaming like jewels in Kate’s dark hair. I saw it like a sheen on her lovely lips. I counted it in the stars.
Recently returned from a harrowing training mission, sixteen-year-old Matt Cruse finds himself suddenly drawing dangerous attention as the only living soul with the recent coordinates of the Hyperion, a ghost ship that disappeared forty years ago. Purported to be carrying a fortune in gold, the airship is the ideal prize for would-be treasure hunters. Even Matt’s sweetheart, the wealthy young zoologist Kate de Vries, is eager to launch her own expedition to reclaim the invaluable scientific collections of Theodore Grunel, the eccentric inventor who built the Hyperion.
But when a mysteriously beautiful gypsy girl claiming to hold the key to the Hyperion’s cargo holds approaches Matt with her own offer, he begins to realize something: if they can manage to enlist a high-altitude ship—a Skybreaker—if they can muster a suitable crew, if they can survive the perils of the higher altitudes, if they can outmaneuver the band of sky pirates set on Grunel’s riches … if they can manage all this, winning the race to the Hyperion might just be Matt’s own great opportunity, his one chance to claim a permanent place in Kate’s world of wealth and privilege.
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In the face of the inherent perils of sequel-writing, Kenneth Oppel does a fine job with this, the second installment of his “Airborn Trilogy.”
First of all, there is plenty of adventure to satisfy Airborn fans. There are fights and chases, there are deadly new airborne creatures, there are feats of daring at high altitudes, there are pirates. The only drawback, really, was the way the plotting of the novel undercut the danger posed by the primary antagonists, by keeping them almost completely absent between the book’s first and final acts. Not that there isn’t plenty of action to keep you engaged as a reader, it’s just one element I wish could have carried through the story more consistently.
Oppel’s real success, though, arises from his willingness to let his characters age into new conflicts, rather than simply recreating the adventure story told in the first book. Matt’s character in particular has grown since his last adventure. In Airborn he was motivated primarily by a sense of responsibility toward his ship and captain. Where he once restrained Kate’s headlong flight toward adventure with his level-headed perspective (sometimes to the point of nagging, really) we now find him initiating his own reckless maneuvers, fighting to secure a place for himself in a complicated new world where money and degrees seem to count more than skill, experience, or the simple performance of one’s duty. This is to say that, not only is the older Matt Cruse a more dynamic character, he is grappling with issues that most of us deal with at some point on our passage into adulthood.
In this sense Skybreaker offers a more significant story, really, than Airborn did, where the coming-of-age element was not really at the forefront. It is definitely a strong follow-up on the series’ excellent first book.
My Grade: A-