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Airborn first edition cover.
|Cover artist||Peter Riddihoff|
|Series||Matt Cruse series|
|Genre||Fantasy, Alternate history novel, Steampunk|
|Publication date||February 5, 2004|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)
|Pages||321 pp (first edition)|
Airborn is a 2004 young adult novel by Kenneth Oppel. The book won the Canada's Governor General's Award. Airborn is set in a time where the primary form of air transportation is the airship. The technological advancements in the story appear to depict a world similar to the very early twentieth century, with a few changes: the airplane has not been invented and the Earth contains hydrium, a fictional gas lighter than hydrogen, as well as fictional flying creatures which live their entire lives in the sky. This suggests that the book takes place in an alternate reality. The book takes place aboard a transoceanic airship, the Aurora, and is told from the perspective of its cabin boy, Matt Cruse. This novel inspired the album "The Airship" of Adam Young's melody and instrumental driven project "Port Blue".
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The story begins with the Aurora, an airship for a luxury line akin to the Lunardi line, on a journey to Sydney, Australia. Matt, a 14-year-old cabin boy, is the protagonist of the story. When we first enter the story, we see him while he is on duty in the crow's nest, scanning the skies for anything unusual. He soon spots a dark balloon drifting a few hundred feet away. The balloon is heavily damaged, and when Matt receives permission to board the balloon from the Aurora's captain, he finds an old man lying unconscious in the gondola. Matt rescues the old man, but he dies shortly afterward, rambling about 'Beautiful Creatures'. The story cuts abruptly to one year later when the Aurora is embarking from Matt's home; Lionsgate City, on another journey to Sydney. Matt admits that, although he loves his Mother and sisters dearly, he is relieved to be aloft again, for he only feels truly at ease in the air. When airborne, Matt feels closest to his father, and he was born in the air it is his natural element. Matt idolizes his father, who died some years previously as the result of a fall from his airship. Matt aspires to be an excellent sailmaker like his father, but also dreams of becoming a Captain of one of the majestic airships himself. Back aboard the ship, Matt's relief is ruined by terrible news; he was promised the position of junior sailmaker, but the place is given to Bruce Lunardi, a boy who just graduated from the Airship Academy and whose father, Otto Lunardi, is the wealthy owner of not only the Aurora but of an entire fleet airships as well.
One day, just after the Aurora sets sail, an ornithopter lands on the ship, bringing aboard 2 passengers: Kate de Vries and her chaperone, Miss Marjorie Simpkins. Matt learns that the old man he rescued was Kate's grandfather and Kate will stop at nothing to prove that the creatures that her grandfather saw were real. Kate shares her grandfather's journal containing detailed drawings and information of the creatures with Matt. The creatures are born in the air and can stay in the air forever, never touching the ground, though they are as large as a panther.
A few nights later, the ship is raided in the dead of night by a notorious group of pirates led by the evil Vikram Szpirglas, a father of two (second child revealed in Skybreaker). Szpirglas' pirates plunder the passengers and crew of all valuables. Szpirglas kills Mr. Featherstone, the chief wireless officer of the Aurora, who'd been caught trying to radio for help. The pirates then proceed to leave, but both ships are caught in a storm and Szpirglas' smaller ship crashes into the Aurora, tearing through the ship's skin and causing hydrium, the substance that keeps the Aurora afloat, to leak out of the airship. Without its precious lifting gas, the airship is left at the mercy of the winds and is sinking quickly towards the churning seas below. Sailmakers begin gluing and repairing the skin, but the Aurora has lost too much hydrium gas, sinking towards the sea, and the passengers and crew prepare to abandon ship. Just then, Matt sights an island on which they can land the Aurora, and they do so.
While the crew unload unnecessary baggage so the ship may remain airborne, Kate discovers that this is the very island which her grandfather spotted the creatures flying above. She is firmly bent upon exploring the island, forcing Matt to accompany her. After hours of looking, they find the skeleton of one of these large winged creatures in a tree. A few minutes later, they find a living one which has a crippled wing and fell to earth at birth. They decide to name these creatures "Cloud Cats".
The Aurora is almost ready to fly again when another storm heavily damages the ship's skin yet again. Matt is rebuked for being late for his shift but redeems himself when he remembers that he smelt hydrium on the island. Kate has one last chance to go back and take pictures of these creatures but Miss Simpkins has locked her in her room for associating with Matt. She escapes by drugging Miss Simpkins and runs off with her camera. Matt and Bruce are sent to find her and together discover that cloud cats are dangerous towards humans, despite being omnivores. Bruce gets bitten on the leg and as they run back to the ship, Matt and Kate lose Bruce and stumble on the pirates.
Szpirglas and his crew don't recognize them; Kate and Matt are forced to act as if they were shipwrecked. They decide to spend the night at the pirate camp, then try and escape at night but are caught and locked in a hydrium pit. They use Kate's harem pants as a balloon and escape. They then have to rescue the Aurora from the pirates, who are bound to find her. In the forest, Kate is crying, overwhelmed with guilt over the disaster that looms ahead. If she had not gone running into the jungle in the first place, attempted to photograph the cloud cat, alerted the pirates to their presence, or fallen asleep while in the village, the pirates would never have suspected that the Aurora was just on the other side of the island. Matt calms Kate by kissing her, once then twice, and this action marks the beginning of their romantic relationship.
They find Bruce with an injured leg in the forest and sneak back onto the Aurora. All passengers and crew are being held hostage by 8 pirates. There is no wind, so the pirates don't notice as they undo all the landing lines. Matt is only a cabin boy, but because of his passion for flying and his time spent in the control room, he knows everything about the Aurora and how to fly her. They switch the controls from the main control car to the auxiliary control car and fly her but Szpirglas soon retakes control. Matt, Kate and Bruce have to defeat 8 pirates and shut down the engines that are carrying them back to the island. Matt sneaks into the infirmary to get bandages, peroxide and antiseptic ointment for Bruce's wound. He also takes some sleeping elixir with him. Matt gives sleeping elixir to the ship's passionate cook, Chef Vlad Herzog, to put in the pirates' soup. Bruce is killed (by being shot in the head) by Szpirglas. Crumlin, the first mate pirate, is eaten by the cloud cat. Matt and Szpirglas fight on top of the Aurora in the open air and Matt is forced to fall off the hull. He freefalls among a large group of migrating Cloud Cats, then lands with a crash on a fin. He comes to the bitter realization that he is not as light as a feather as he thought, and cannot fly. But he defeats Szpirglas, who is torn apart by cloud cats as he falls. The Aurora is about to crash into the island's mountain peak but Matt steers her out of harm's way.
The story ends six months later, as Kate is exhibiting her cloud cat skeleton and her pictures of the cloud cats and is going to study zoology at a university in Paris. Matt, with the help of the reward money for finding Szpirglas' base of operation, goes to the Airship Academy in Paris, which is located directly across the river from the university.
Awards and nominations
- The book won the Governor General's Award for children's literature.
- The book was a Michael L. Printz Award honor book.
- Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Blue Ribbon award winner.
- The book was a 2007 Nutmeg Children's Book Award nominee. It came in fifth place.
- The book was a 2006–2007 Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award nominee.
- The book won the Red Maple Award in 2006
- The book originally was being adapted into a film, to be directed by Stephen Sommers. Thomas Dean Donnelly adapted the screenplay, and Christian Vandal was to star as Matt Cruse. However, in 2008, Oppel indicated that the project has been dropped.
- Announced on March 19, 2012, Halifax Films and Michael Donovan have teamed up and have optioned the book for film. Oppel has been hired to write the preliminary script and will be an executive producer.
Airborn was first released in Canada in February 2004. It was shortly followed with its release in the United Kingdom and the United States in April and May 2004 respectively. Below is the release details for the first edition hardback and paperback copies in these three publication regions.
- 2004, CAN, HarperCollins ISBN 978-0-00-200537-1, Pub date February 5, 2004, Hardback
- 2004, UK, Hodder Children's Books ISBN 978-0-340-87855-2, Pub date April 15, 2004, Hardback
- 2004, US, Eos ISBN 978-0-06-053180-5, Pub date May 11, 2004, Hardback
- Nutmeg Children's Book Award – 2007 Nominees
- Walker, Morley (2008-09-28). "Interview with an Author: Oppel's simple advice: write about your passion". Winnipeg Free Press. Winnipeg Free Press. Retrieved 2010-03-03.
- Kenneth, Oppel (2012-03-19). "Kenneth Oppel: Airborn The Movie: Take Two". Kenneth Oppel's Blog. Retrieved 2013-11-12.