Airborn by Kenneth Oppel
Reasons for reading: have always meant to; winner of the 2004 Governor General's Award for Children's Literature for Book Awards Challenge
Description: "Set in an imaginary past where giant airships rule the skies, Airborn is the story of Matt Cruse, the 15-year-old cabin boy of the 900-foot luxury airship Aurora. Hundreds of feet over the Pacificus Ocean, Matt fearlessly performs a dramatic rescue to save an old man from his crippled hot-air balloon. Before he dies, the stranger tells Matt about the fantastic, impossible creatures he has seen flying through the clouds. Matt dismisses the story as the ravings of a dying man, but when a beautiful, bold girl arrives on the Aurora a year later, determined to prove the story true, Matt finds himself caught up in her quest. But can he and Kate solve the mystery before pirates, shipwreck and frightening predators end their voyage forever?"
First line: "Sailing towards dawn, I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes."
My thoughts: This was a very enjoyable read and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to adventure-seeking young readers of either gender. Sky pirates - what else do you need?? The "imagined history" setting was well-done - there's almost a steampunk vibe to it. It was a bit odd that some things were the same (like Paris) while some things (like the Pacificus Ocean) were altered, but once I got used to it it added to the vibe of the book.
Matt is a very likeable hero and I really liked how his "airborn"-ness (he was born on an airship and only really feels at home when he's aloft) was woven through the story - it made him even more interesting and added depth to his character as we found out about his father's tragic death. His love for the Aurora is really impressive and it makes the ship a character itself.
Kate was occasionally a bit too spunky girl adventurer-type for me, but overall she's well-drawn, too. Her ability to escape her governess is admirable and produces some funny moments (one involving underwear and one involving sleeping medicine, for example).
I rolled my eyes at first over the flying creatures, thinking Oppel was going back to his days of writing about bats and while the story had enough action to do without them, they were eventually integrated into the story in a believable enough way.
The verdict: A rollicking adventure with great characters and I think I'll have to read the rest of the trilogy to find out if Matt ever gets his dream of flying his own airhship.