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Airborn Hardcover – May 11, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 201 customer reviews
Book 1 of 3 in the Matt Cruse Series

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Grade 6-10–An original and imaginative Victorian-era fantasy. Matt, 15, only feels alive when he's aloft working as a cabin boy aboard the Aurora,a luxury airship that is part dirigible, part passenger cruise ship. When wealthy Kate and her chaperone come aboard, Matt soon discovers that she is determined to prove her grandfather's claims that he saw strange creatures flying in the sky in that area the year before. The man's diary describes them as huge, furry beasts with batlike wings and sharp claws. Soon after Kate arrives, pirates attack the ship and rob the wealthy passengers. A storm forces the damaged Aurora to set down on a seemingly deserted island. Kate and Matt discover the skeletal remains of one of the creatures, and, later, a live but deformed one that lives among the treetops. In their attempts to photograph "the cloud cat," they stumble upon the pirates' hideout and are captured. Can they escape in time to stop the brigands from stealing the Aurora? Will Kate prove the existence of this undiscovered species? This rousing adventure has something for everyone: appealing and enterprising characters, nasty villains, and a little romance. Oppel provides glimpses of the social conventions of the era, humorous byplay between the main characters, and comic relief in the form of Matt's cabin mate and Kate's straitlaced chaperone. Reminiscent of Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (HarperCollins, 2003), this adventure is much lighter in tone and has a lower body count.–Sharon Rawlins, Piscataway Public Library, NJ
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Gr. 6-8. Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the luxury passenger airship Aurora when the ship encounters a battered hot air balloon with an unconscious man aboard. Before dying, the man claims to have seen beautiful creatures swarming in the air over an uncharted island. Not until a year later, when Matt meets the man's granddaughter, Kate de Vries, who boards the Aurora, does he learn that the man wasn't hallucinating. Pirates board, rob, and kill, and a fierce storm grounds the Aurora on the very island that Kate's grandfather spoke about--which proves to be the pirates' secret hideaway. Though readers will need to suspend disbelief of the mysterious flying creatures, which Matt and Kate call "cloud cats," details of life and work aboard the ship as well as the dramatic escapade itself make this a captivating read. Sally Estes
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: EOS HarperCollins; First Edition edition (May 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060531800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060531805
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (201 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #646,959 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By EA Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Kenneth Oppel, best known for writing about bats, seems to be channelling the spirit of Jules Verne in "Airborn," a wildly imaginative new fantasy book. Between mysterious flying beasts and pirate attacks, Oppel gives readers a glimpse of life aboard an airship... if airships, not planes, were the major way to travel.

Matt Cruse is on the crow's nest, as the "ship's eyes," when he catches a glimpse of a sinking airship. The dying balloonist dies shortly afterward -- but not before telling Matt about glorious winged creatures. Matt dismisses these as hallucinations -- but one year later, a routine cruise on the airship Aurora becomes something more when the dead man's granddaughter Kate arrives. Wealthy but treated like a nuisance, Kate is determined to find whatever her grandfather saw.

She shows Matt her grandfather's writings about these winged creatures, and Matt is slowly convinced that the old man wasn't just hallucinating. But their investigations are interrupted by a sudden pirate attack -- which leaves the Aurora sinking from a rip in its envelope. Soon the airship and her crew and passengers are stranded on a deserted island, which may hold the secret to Kate's winged beasts... but it also holds the pirates.

Oppel really hits his stride in this book, mixing science with science fiction and wrapping it in a fantasy tortilla. While his bat books were quite good, "Airborn" has the rare quality of slipping readers into his imagined universe. It's one of those stories that can be easily imagined as a reality, even if we do have planes and not airships. He even describes how creatures like the cloud cats could fly, were they real.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
A boy named Matt Cruse has spent his life as a cabin boy on an airship. When pirates attack, the airship is stranded on a seemingly deserted island. When Matt travels farther inland, however, he discovers that the island is home to the pirates! To add to the suspense, a mysterious animal has been spotted flying around the island!

This fast-paced, highly suspenseful novel is full of action and adventure. As a middle school student, I highly recommend it to middle school and high school readers. Also, it's worth noting that this book was one of the Young Reader's Choice nominees for the Senior Division (10th - 12th graders) for 2007.
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A Kid's Review on January 21, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
The creature was no more than twelve feet in front of us, and I felt a tremendous fear in me. I could see the fish's broken spine on the ground, its severed head and dead eye jerking with every pull from the creature's jaws.

She ate the fish. She could eat us.

Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel, begins with young cabin boy Matt Cruse aboard the Aurora luxury airship. One day, he meets a passenger, Kate de Vries, a passenger who is determined to see the amazing airborne creatures her grandfather once saw. However, before her dream comes true, the ship is attacked by the notorious pirate Szpirglas, and the Aurora is shipwrecked on a small tropical island. In the end, Matt and Kate find the creatures, great misty white "cloud cats," and get rid of Szpirglas once and for all. Airborn is the perfect fantasy adventure, combining suspense and excitement to create an excellent book.

One aspect of the story that I enjoyed is how it is set in an alternate past. Airborn takes place in an imaginary time where airships rule the skies, but the author makes this seem real throughout the story. For instance, little tidbits about how the Aurora works make these huge blimp-like airships more conceivable. When you are introduced to the crew and learn about all their jobs, this effect is considerably enhanced. Finally, Matt's grief over his deceased father, his efforts to become a sailmaker, and his troubles with Kate all add an air of realism to the entire novel.

Some other parts of the novel I found appealing are the sections with Szpirglas and his pirates. For example, the scene where the pirates first invade the Aurora has you almost fearing for the crew and passengers, and those fears are confirmed when the wireless officer Mr. Featherstone is shot and killed.
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Format: Hardcover
Airborn is set in a world where the Wright brothers had a mishap, and airplanes where never invented. Instead, dirigibles like the Hindenburg (but safer although not by much, it seems) rule the air. The main character, Matt Cruse, is a shallow mix of Peter Pan and Jim Hawkins. He's a generic children's protagonist. No glaring faults and little fear for himself, which voids any notion of courage. The villain is equally generic with a generic twist to spice things up. However, that typical cliche can all be forgiven since it is a young adult novel.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the book is that the support characters have much more depth than the protagonist and antagonist. The shame is similar to having scuba gear and only being able to swim in a pool that's in the middle of an ocean. You find yourself wondering, "Why am I in this dreadfully boring pool when I could be exploring the depths of this nearby ocean instead". I would have rather heard the story from the Cruse's rival's perspective. He's afraid of heights which makes his every action aboard the airship that much more courageous.
The pacing is slow at first, and any impactful moment in the later part of the book is dulled by the symptom of children's novel. There won't be a memorable moment that sticks with you later.
My last beef with Airborn is a practical one, and in the spirit of fiction could honestly be ignored. And if you don't like spoilers, I'd ignore this part if I were you.

//Spoiler// When Cruse makes his daring escape from the air vent, he uses clothing to create his own miniature balloon. However, this would be impossible since the Hydrium?
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