Quill & Quire *starred review*
When you buy Kenneth Oppel’s Skybreaker, prepare to clear your schedule: you won’t be able to put down this ripping good yarn. In the sequel to Airborn,we reunite with Matt Cruse, now struggling with classes at the Airship Academy, and his love interest Kate de Vries, scientist-in-training. The two friends, along with Captain Hal Slater and Nadira, a mysterious Roma girl,are racing to find the Hyperion, a long-lost airship Matt has sighted during a training mission. Reportedly full of treasure, the Hyperion represents a salvager’s dream and, once the word is out that the ship has been found, it’s a cutthroat and potentially deadly competition to get to it first. In Hal’s prototype vessel (the Skybreaker of the title), they reach the fabled ship, but face dangers from pirates, the natural world, and each other, as they struggle with avarice, jealousy, and pride.
Like its predecessor, Skybreaker is distinguished by stellar prose,
engaging characters, and a minute attention to detail that makes even the
most fantastic elements totally believable: indeed, you’ll ache with
disappointment that this world doesn’t really exist. The Hyperion is a
veritable menagerie of wonder, with fabled beasts (including a stuffed
Yeti), an engineerium full of amazing inventions, and, possibly, the
restless spirits of dead crew.
Oppel has also produced complex characters: the heroes are flawed, and the villains ambiguous. While the crew’s enemies are less colourful than those in Airborn, they are just a backdrop for the dramatic conflicts
between the protagonists, who struggle to decide who among them is friend or foe. A ompelling psychological thriller in addition to a great
old-fashioned adventure tale, this is an enthralling read for ages 10 and
The Horn Book * starred review*
After the excitement of his encounters with pirates, cloud cats, and the rich and alluring Kate de Vries, Matt Cruse finds life at the Airship Academy significantly anticlimactic. When, on a training mission, he glimpses the legendary Hyperion, the ghost airship that is the relic of a crazed jillionaire's last hurrah, he sees a fast-track to the wealth he needs to woo Kate properly. Enter shady thugs, a mysterious gypsy girl, and the dashing captain of the fabulous skybreaker Sagarmatha, an airship especially designed to attain the extreme altitudes where the Hyperion drifts, ripe for salvage. Whereas Airborn was almost entirely (and exhilaratingly) plot-driven, this sequel manages to delve into its characters even as it delivers yet another breakneck flight through the skies of its beguiling alternative world. The romantic tensions among the four adventurers headed for the Hyperion allow plenty of opportunity to explore their personalities as they steer the Saga toward the ghost ship. Killing altitudes, conflicting agendas, and the ruthlessness of the Aruba Consortium goons who are also intent on capturing
the wealth and secrets of the Hyperion provide more than enough material for
heart-stopping action scenes that will please even the most jaded of
The Times (London)
*The Times' Children's Novel of 2005*
One of the maddening things about the present boom in children’s fiction is that so few would-be J. K. Rowlings realise the speed with which they need to hook their readers’ attention. Children should not and do not endure boredom in a book. This is especially true of boys, who will give a story one paragraph at most before the siren call of the PlayStation blots out all thought.
So when you begin: “The storm boiled above the ocean, a dark, bristling wall of cloud, blocking our passage west,” you are off to a good start. Within a few pages, as the air-ship soars dangerously high and our hero spots a ship loaded with gold, fasten your seat-belt for some terrific reading.
Skybreaker is the sequel to Airborn, the first of an Indiana Jones-style adventure trilogy set in a world geographically like this one but dominated by zeppelins or airships. The irrepressible cabin boy Matt Cruse won enough treasure at the end of Airborn to afford a place as a trainee at the Airship Academy, but his troubles are by no means over.
The rich and beautiful Kate, with whom he is in love, is also in Paris, but with no money, a widowed mother and a long series of exams ahead, he has no chance as a suitor. Then he realises that the legendary ghost ship Hyperion, spotted in a terrifying ascent at the beginning, might be the solution — as long as he can get to it before some pirates. Only Matt knows the co-ordinates of the Hyperion’s last sighting, so the hunt is on. With crooks and pirates on his heels, a debonair captain flirting with Kate, a gorgeous gypsy girl in possession of the secret key to defuse the ship’s bombs and a heart boiling with jealousy and courage, this is the kind of adventure that children love best.
Who hasn’t looked up and dreamt of strange lands and stranger animals living in the sky? From the land of the giants reached by Jack’s beanstalk to the floating island of Laputa in Gulliver’s Travels, children’s stories have always imagined a parallel world in the clouds. For aficionados, Skybreaker has some familiar features, not least its aerozoans, presumably descended from Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, The Horror of the Heights. Kate, a keen zoologist, is desperate to find the ship’s strange specimens, but these aerial cephalopods, armed with an electric sting, are far more frightening for being inside a ship full of booby-traps and dead bodies. Grunel, the ship’s owner, was an inventor trying to find a way to make “hydrium”, the lighter-than-air helium-type fuel on which this world’s airships depend, and according to his journal, has a dream of constructing a city in the air. But Matt and Kate are about to discover how it all went wrong.
The plot alone would make this series a wonderful film, but Oppel is also good at character. Not only Matt and Kate but a host of others spring to life, sidestepping cliché and bullets with grace and humour. The setting is what will appeal most, however. Children love the idea of travelling by balloon, and the combination of aeronauts and pirates blends Jules Verne with Treasure Island. There is cold, thin air and the constant danger of freezing to death on the one hand; treasure, comradeship and shanties on the other. Its 453 pages go far too quickly, but that’s always the trouble with stories that you just can’t wait to read.
Matt Cruse, now 16 and a student at the Airship Academy in Paris, is swept into another sky adventure even richer and more surprising than the one in Airborn.... Creative, compelling, nicely unpredictable and alive with nature and technology.
School Library Journal
Oppel does it again! This action-packed sequel to Airborn starts with a bang and doesn't let up until the satisfying ending.... This worthy companion to Airborn maintains its roller-coaster thrills in true swashbuckling style.
The action rarely flags in this old-fashioned adventure tale, set in an alternative universe in the earlier part of the 20th century, and readers, especially thos who read Airborn, will enjoy the thrilling ride.
"A rollicking adventure... A grand, no-holds-barred imagination."
New Statesman (UK)
A New Statesman Book of the Year
For children of ten-plus, Kenneth Oppel's Skybreaker is an irresistibly ebullient blend of adventure, mystery and romance set on an airship concealing a fortune in gold. It dragged my son back to enjoying reading
Globe & MailL (Toronto)
There are few writers for kids anywhere in the world who write pure adventure quite so well as Kenneth Oppel. Iain Lawrence comes to mind, especially in his High Seas trilogy. But Oppel's latest novels are . . . well, higher. The ships of which he speaks are rigged and sailed and subject to the vagaries of storms and pirates, but they are ships of the air, zeppelins, massive frigates of the sky.
Such a ship is the Hyperion, all 750 feet of her; "a giant airborne whale, cutting the icy sky with her flukes." The "harpooners" who have come to capture her are in a sleeker vessel, the Sagarmatha, after the Nepalese name for Mount Everest. The Saga, as its captain calls his ship, is built for maximum altitude; the kind of ship they call a skybreaker.
Skybreaker is the much-anticipated sequel to Oppel's runaway bestseller Airborn, which won the Governor-General's Award and, among many other honours, was short-listed for the prestigious Michael L. Printz award in the United States. (Think Newbery for young adults.)
In Skybreaker, Oppel takes courageous 16-year-old aeronaut Matt Cruse, and his beautiful, brainy sidekick, Kate de Vries, to new heights, literally. They are off to the stratosphere -- what airship sailors call Skyberia -- in search of the legendary ghost ship, the Hyperion. It disappeared many years earlier, and is rumoured to be carrying the vast fortune of eccentric millionaire inventor Theodore Grumel, a kind of Victorian Howard Hughes. It turns out to be carrying much more.
Matt and Kate are not the only ones who are after the salvage rights. To begin with, there is the captain of the Saga, the suave young entrepreneur Hal Slater. Matt is not at all pleased with the attention Kate pays to this arrogant rogue. To avoid a Luke-Leia-Han kind of love triangle, Oppel introduces a fourth adventurer, the bold and alluring Gypsy girl Nadira. The temperature may be dropping outside the ship, as it climbs to 20,000 feet above the Antarctic, but things certainly are heating up on board. In truth, the romance is of the Indiana Jones variety; it never gets in the way of the story. And what a story it is, with plenty of derring-do, plot turns galore and villains of the nastiest kind.
Allusions to the movies are hard to avoid. Oppel trained as a screenwriter and brings to his novels a filmic sense of pace and panorama, and fantastic proportion. He just seems to have a larger budget for special effects than the average writer. The snappy dialogue owes something to the movies, as well, and the editing is as taut as a bowline in a fresh breeze. He lavishes attention on technical description, but with an unwavering sense of the attention span of his audience. And finally, Oppel must be recognized as the grand master of the action sequence, doing with words and syntax what Lucas and Spielberg do with actors and props. Airborn has been optioned; it will one day, undoubtedly, be a film, and one might expect the same fate for Skybreaker. It's got movie written all over it.
While Airborn was both a big seller and a critical success, there was the odd reviewer who acknowledged Oppel's appeal to what Douglas Rushkoff calls the "screenager" as a kind of backhanded compliment, as if to suggest that the work was not somehow literary enough. He is not a literary stylist, but rather a master yarn spinner. His writing is lively and vividly detailed, but never so as to distract you from the plot unwinding deliciously before your eyes.
And I have to think that to accuse Oppel of not being sufficiently literary or reflective is to ignore a tradition at least as old as Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, on one hand, and of C. S. Forester or Patrick O'Brian on the other. The Matt Cruse novels are a pastiche of science fiction and high-seas adventure, and of something still more venerable. They are romances in the tradition of Sir Walter Scott. They are stories of lofty ideals told at a lofty altitude. Skybreaker is a boy's dream of valour, of defiance in the face of evil, of doing the decent thing.
Are they then "boy's books"? Most assuredly, yes. But not exclusively so. Kate and Nadira are high-spirited, capable, brave and resourceful. Kate is used to getting her way; Nadira is used to taking it. Neither of them is a hand-wringer. I'd like to think that girls will be attracted to Skybreaker in the same way they have flocked to Harry Potter. But that not withstanding, this is a boy's book; the hero's journey, as Joseph Campbell would have it, is complete with the requisite "call to adventure" and "bringing home a boon to his community." And Matt Cruse is a most worthy hero: practical, not foolhardy, emotionally insecure but stalwart in the face of adversity.
I remember meeting Oppel just after he had written Silverwing. While I congratulated him heartily on it, I recall rolling my eyes when he mentioned there was to be a sequel. The Silverwing trilogy turned out to be wonderfully satisfying in every way -- truly a saga. So I find myself, eight years later, in the unusual position of actually hoping there might be yet a third Matt Cruse adventure. I have a feeling many thousands of kids will be hoping along with me. -- Tim Wynne-Jones
In this breathtaking sequel to the Governor General's Award-winning fantasy novel Airborn, 16-year-old Matt Cruse flies higher than he ever dreamed. The former Aurora cabin boy, now a student at the prestigious Paris Airship Academy, is on a two-week training tour with a run-down cargo airship when his captain sights a legendary ghost ship. Matt recklessly heads skyward in pursuit--only to risk sacrificing his entire crew to altitude sickness. The Hyperion, lost in a storm in the dawn of the aviation age and buoyed high above the clouds for 40 years, is rumoured to hold great wealth, and Matt is suddenly the only person on earth who knows her coordinates.
Soon, he and his upper-class sweetheart, Kate de Vries, are embarked on a dangerous aerial treasure hunt, along with Hal, the conceited pilot of a sleek, new altitude-friendly airship, and a mysterious gypsy girl named Nadira, who claims to have the key to the Hyperion's booby-trapped treasure troves. Drawing on the myths of Icarus and Prometheus, as well as classic sea adventures like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Poseidon Adventure, Skybreaker combines an action-packed thriller with a sensitive exploration of the limits of human ambition. Matt's jealousy of the self-made Hal (who he suspects has designs on Kate) and his own furtive attraction to Nadira heighten the emotional tension and raw suspense of the visceral scenes aboard the Hyperion, an ice-entombed version of the Titanic. With pirates, sky monsters, and disturbed spirits, not to mention enough bizarre flying machines to fill an aviation museum (even a bat-copter for Silverwing fans), Skybreaker confirms Kenneth Oppel's reputation as Canada's leading fantasy author for children and young adults.
Oppel outdoes himself every time, developing a complex world with a rich and enticing atmosphere, creating a fast-paced plot of action and adventure, and scripting quirky and eclectic characters, all factors that make Skybreaker a worthy sequel to Airborn.
Canadian & US editions