Monday, March 12, 2012

Airborn by Kenneth Oppel - A 2005 Read

In my lovely pile of book reviews that are hidden in an old cache, I just ran across this one for Airborn by Kenneth Oppel (HarperCollins-Eos) that I wrote in 2005. I've edited it a bit to take out the personal conversation that was embedded in it at the time. And, my apologies, but there may be an odd break around the picture when this posts. The disintegration with Amazon Associates has caused problems, and now, even when I'm just typing text, Blogger is showing inability-to-save errors. I'm bummed because Blogger is a) free, b) doesn't require me to have a hosting service, c) doesn't require me to keep up with WordPress, d) is very WYSIWYG, meaning that I can spend more time writing and less time coding, creating more time for reading, and e) it has nice basic stats, themes, and ways to connect with other blog(ger)s. Buuuut...I suppose I'll have to make time, eventually, to move again.
Anyway, Airborn was one of the best books I'd read in a while. I hadn't been inspired by the cover; the title looked clunky (as compared to, say, Airborne...but there's a reason why that wasn't the right word), the colors were the dark blues and reds I associated with Robin Cook or John Grisham or a medical/police/political thriller (I believe that there are more cover designs available now, and of course, it doesn't look odd at all to me today), and the airship on the cover resembled nothing so much as a shark. Once in, though, there was this wonderful sense of being in a turn-of-the centuryish Treasure Island/Swiss Family Robinson/Indiana Jones adventure.

The book tiptoes in the direction of magical realism but doesn't go there, exactly. In this parallel, giant airships and balloons rule the skies, sliding over the occasional ocean liner (such as the Titania) below. There's been no apparent need to invent or use airplanes, except for gliders as a sort of hobby. Of course, there's also a sense that this is taking place about 100 years ago in terms of fashion and convention.

Matt, a cabin boy sailing out of Sydney, receives the determined and impetuous Kate Simpkins for a passenger. She's accompanied by only a noisy, nosy chaperone, and wants to know what really happened to her grandfather and what were the mysterious creatures he saw in the sky. He also has to contend with Bruce, the aviation-school brat who came on board because of nepotism and usurped Matt's promotion. Oh yeah, and there are pirates, a storm and shipwreck, narrow escapes, a daring rescue, acrobatics in the air, and a hint of romance of the type that I always think of as the kind even boys who still think in cootie terms won't mind.

I loved this book as a standalone, and was unexcited about the sequels (huh, and I've been complaining about that a lot again recently). I liked the just-open-enough ending, and as it turns out, I haven't read all of the sequel(s?), though I own more books by this author, and they've survived more than one round of book-purging. I remember Airborn as a nifty historical speculative adventure, and would still recommend it.

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