Tuesday, September 01, 2009
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Kenneth Oppel’s Airborn (A) introduces a re-imagined Edwardian past in which luxury airships, held aloft by a non-flammable natural gas called "Hydrium," circumnavigate the globe. Matt Cruse is a fifteen-year-old cabin boy of one such airship. When the lovely and headstrong Kate de Vries comes aboard, Matt finds himself wrestling with some unanticipated impulsiveness of his own. As he struggles to balance his newfound adventurousness with his duties to his ship and family, Matt uncovers a deeper emotional trauma he’s kept hidden from himself. If that sounds like “eat your spinach” reading, the book is in fact a masterfully taut thriller, with strange creatures and merciless pirates on either side of Oppel’s narrative high-wire.
Being an open-minded, readerly Daddy-O sort, I was quite willing to be charmed by the spectacular entertainment that Airborn delivers. But I was caught off-guard by the story's deep emotional pay-off. I read this book aloud while my wife drove the family to and from our summer vacation. We somehow managed a safe trip despite Oppel’s nearly-narcotic ability to beguile. In this respect Oppel can be compared to J.K. Rowling without either author suffering. This is a fabulous book, which deserves the largest possible audience.
Update: I just discovered there are two more books in this series. To which I can only say: Woo-hoo!
Links: the book's official website, Kenneth Oppel's site.