Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.
In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.
First Look: ***** I'm really not sure why I haven't picked this up before. It's one of those books that I passed by pretty much every time I went to the library, but never paid attention to. I'm really glad I picked it up!
Setting: ***** I loved the steampunk aspect of this book. It's a good example of the fact that sometimes, the coolest settings are created by changing relatively minor things. In this book, the early 1900s world very, very similar to what our real world was, except instead of airplanes, we have airships. Blimps. Dirigibles (I love this word!). Whatever you want to call them. It isn't a world-shattering thing, but it makes a very compelling world nonetheless. I enjoyed the uniqueness and detail of this setting, as well.
Characters: ***** These characters were characters you could really cheer for. Matt's enthusiasm for what he did (worked on an airship) was contagious. The author managed to capture his love for flight and let it seep through the pages to us. I liked that. I also liked how he was three-dimensional. He had his share of faults and things that haunted him, but he was still very likable.
I also liked the supporting characters. You know you've got a good all-around supporting cast when the author can throw around a name just once or twice, and you immediately know who he/she is throughout the entire book. None of this "Wait...who is Mr. Smith, again?" stuff.
Plot: ***** I enjoyed the plot. It kept me wanting to know what was going to happen. I felt like it got a bit slow in the middle, but it managed to pick itself up again. This book also deserves a huge amount of credit for the romance aspect of the plot. It was definitely there, but...it didn't overshadow the real plot. It didn't come right out and wave a flag that said There's romance here, people! It wasn't as wonderfully subtle as Monsters of Men, but it was still very nicely done.
Uniqueness: ***** A fresh, unique read.
Writing: ***** Going into this, I was really hoping it would have the same nondescript writing as This Dark Endeavor, written by the same author. Fortunately, it definitely did. What I like most about Oppel's writing is that you really don't realize it's there. It gets in, tells the story, and gets out without making a fuss. It isn't the gorgeous utter wonderfulness of The Scorpio Races, but it was still very well-written. It doesn't distract you from the story.
Likes: The steampunkishness. (Yeah, that's a word now.) The cool airship. The cloud cat. And other things, mentioned above.
Not-so-great: Nothing that springs to mind.
Total Score: This is a very good book. It's not quite a five-star, but it's getting there. It's got great characters, a compelling plot that only drags a tiny bit in the middle, and a well-written narrative. It's also a standout in that it's unique--steampunk meets Gilligan's Island meets Pirates of the Caribbean, in a way. I can't wait to get the sequel! Recommended for fans of steampunk and science fiction, and especially recommended for anyone who remotely enjoyed Eoin Colfer's splendiferous novel Airman.
Reviews of other Matt Cruse novels:
Skybreaker (Matt Cruse #2)
Starclimber (Matt Cruse #3)