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  Bookends: Dan Davidson


Reviewed: January 9, 2008
By: Kenneth Oppel
Publisher: Harper Collins Canada
340 pages, $16.99

Skybreaker is the sequel to Airborn, which introduced us to Oppel’s alternate history in which airships, rather than airplanes, conquered the sky and shrank the world. In the first novel we met Matt Cruise, who actually was born in the air and is most at ease when flying. It is is dream to spend a career on the magnificent, hydrium lifted airships which carry the worlds cargo and passengers.

Written in the style of early 20th century pulp adventure novels, Matt’s world is one where air pirates roam the skies and the world remains dotted with unexplored areas. In Airborn he met the rich young scientist Kate De Vries, and became involved in her quest to rediscover the flying cats her grandfather had described in his journals before he died in a ballooning accident.

Skybreaker takes up Matt’s story when he has achieved what he never thought possible and has entered the Paris Airship Academy. While on a practical internship on third rate cargo ship called the Flotsam, Matt is just about the only crew member to retain his senses when the captain takes the ship too high in pursuit of the Hyperion, a fabulous treasure ship presumed lost 40 years earlier.

As a result of this adventure. Matt finds himself in possession of the last known coordinates of the Theodore Grunel’s fantastic airship, which had taken off on a secret mission all those years before and had never been heard from again.

Many people want to find the Hyperion. Most want the fabulous treasure Grunel was rumoured to have had aboard. Kate wants his collection of rare animal specimens. A cabal of businessmen wants the inventions Grunel was said to be working on in secret. Matt would like enough of the money to keep his family in comfort and pay for his further education.

Matt finds himself caught up in a new adventure, financed by Kate and led by the dashing Captain Hal Slater and his high altitude ship (a sky breaker) the Saga. Following the trail of the Hyperion, trying to guess where the upper air winds might have taken her, they find themselves over Antarctica, coping with the extreme cold of height and latitude, surprised by the deadly stinging aerozoans of the upper air, and pursued by agents of the cabal, who want sole possession of Grunel’s secrets.

Oppel has truly captured the spirit of the Victorian adventure tale in these novels. I’m sure there is much more to explore in Matt’s world, and can report that Oppel is currently working on a third adventure in this setting.

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