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Airborn
Kenneth Oppel
HarperCollins Canada, 304 pages

Kenneth Oppel
Kenneth Oppel was born in 1967 in Port Alberni, British Columbia but spent most of his childhood in Victoria, B.C. and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Through family friends, Roald Dahl's literary agent read one of his stories and was willing to try to sell it. Oppel was 12 and the story sold. Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure was published in 1985, in Britain and the U.S, and later in France. He did a BA at the University of Toronto (a double major in cinema studies and English) and wrote his second children's novel The Live-Forever Machine in his final year, for a creative writing course. He married the year after graduation and spent the next three years in Oxford, where his wife was doing doctoral studies in Shakespeare. Since then the have lived in Newfoundland, Dublin, and Toronto.

Kenneth Oppel Website
ISFDB Bibliography

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Rodger Turner

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Airborn In an alternate Victorian world, Matt Cruse serves as a cabin boy on the luxury airship Aurora. He is on watch when a tattered hot air balloon crosses the ship's path. Matt succeeds in saving its severely injured passenger through nimble acrobatics but the balloonist dies soon thereafter. In the adventurer's notebook are a number of drawings of bizarre winged creatures, half bat, half panther. Do such creatures exist or are they the fevered imaginings of a dying scientist?

Some months later on another voyage across the ocean, the Aurora heads south. This time out, one of her passengers is Kate de Vries. She is the granddaughter of the balloonist Matt had rescued. Unable to accompany him on his last journey, Kate is determined to verify her granfather's findings and salvage his scientific legacy: the discovery of the previously unknown species described in his notebook. Matt is tasked with showing Kate the intricacies of the airship and squire her about. Despite the differences in their social standing, they find a bond growing between them.

They both know that the airships path will pass near where the balloon was found floating aimlessly. They plot the steps needed to confirm the "sky cats" existence -- photographs and scientific descriptions. But their plans are interrupted by pirates who board the ship with the intention of robbing the passengers of their jewels and valuables. While making their escape, the pirate dirigible and nature play a part in the flight paths of the two airships causing the Aurora to be damaged. Only a forced landing will save the passengers but allows the pirates their escape. Unfortunately for all (but Matt and Kate), their destination is a desert island. Hope of rescue is bleak until Matt finds a source for their lift gas. But the island appears to be home for the sky cats. Matt and Kate hatch a scheme to discover whether this is the case.

On a trek through the island's wood, they find a group of the mammals flying about in the rather unique air streams which surround the island along with the animal Kate's grandfather sighted. But it is also home to the pirates who ransacked their ship. Oh my! Things are getting dangerous.

In Airborn, Kenneth Oppel brings together all of the pieces for an astonishing adventure. We've got dirigibles, desert islands, pirates, odd fauna and two engaging characters in Matt and Kate. I found myself blasting through the pages wanting to know what happens next but dreading the likelihood of disaster. Only the inventiveness of our two heroes prevents the bad guys from winning the day. Readers who were entranced by Philip Reeve (Mortal Engines and Predator's Gold) will be smitten by Airborn.

Copyright © 2005 Rodger Turner

Rodger has read a lot of science fiction and fantasy in forty years. He can only shake his head and say, "So many books, so little time."


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