Airborn by Kenneth Oppel is the story of Matt Cruse, a cabinboy on the airship Aurora. In the story, Matt becomes linked with Miss Kate DeVries, a wealthy young passenger searching for a mysterious creature that her grandfather had witnessed in the skies a year earlier. Together, they ward off pirates and search for the cloud cat.
The story was set in some sort of alternate past or historical future -- it took place on an airship, which seemed simultaneously nostalgic and futuristic. The society was very much that of the early twentieth century, though, so it seemed somewhat familiar. The writing felt similarly familiar and somewhat nostalgic; less verbose than the actual novels of that time, it still read like a classic. The language was accessible, but still pleasantly surprising. Unlike Uglies or, to a certain extent, Percy Jackson, Airborn did not just come from someone with a creative idea, but someone who could weave the language around the story. Oppel twists this familiar tale and revises the Romantic adventures of eras past, and his language serves this purpose. It has one foot firmly rooted in the Romantic Era and the other just as firmly planted in modern adventure stories.
Similarly, the characters were somehow familiar and classic, yet re-visioned into very modern individuals. Strong, believable, and likable, Matt and Kate draw a reader into the story. Kate DeVries stands out as the single best female character that I've read thus far for this project. She is strong-willed and independent without being over-bearing or overly obnoxious. Her determination overshadows her judgment at times, but she always owns up to her own mistakes and she doesn't ask more of Matt than she asks of herself. I found myself overwhelmed by her dedication to her project at times, but I think that such distinction is almost a characteristic of the faux-romantic era novel of years past. She takes on a sort of Romantic hero mentality at times, where her drive towards distinction almost causes her downfall. Even so, she remains genuine and honestly endearing through the end.
In the same vein, Matt is a very human character. He's riddled with fear and insecurities, but his overall dedication to his ship and his captain are admirable. He is far more cautious than Kate, but the foil serves the story well, and he definitely comes into his own by the end of the story. I wouldn't go as far as to call it a "coming of age" tale, however the book does end with Matt having a better understanding of himself and what he wants in the world.
While the characters absolutely make this book, I don't know that it said very big things toward society. Kate struggles against the bounds put on her as a young woman of a past culture, but overall, I don't see this as a cautionary tale like Uglies or a social satire like Unfortunate Events. The book is more introspective than outward looking, and even then, it doesn't make grand statements about good people versus bad people. It shows that all people are multi-faceted and can't be written off with big labels. Bruce Lunardi, for example, is the wealthy son of the Aurora's owner who comes to the ship and takes Matt's rightful position as sailmaker. Matt has his reservations and bitterness, but Bruce is humble and self-effacing and kind, thereby flying in the face of stereotypes. Even Vikram Szpirglas,the most villainous pirate in the story, is portrayed as a loving father in some parts, desperately confusing Matt and Kate. This novel thrives in the unexpected character developments and in such creates memorable individuals against a somewhat familiar backdrop.
I loved this book. I think that something needs to be said for when a reader can't put a book down -- that's how Airborn hit me. It was a page-turner, a really pleasant, exciting read, and I would highly recommend it to people of all ages.