Airborn Trilogy Book 2: Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel – Book Review

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Big old fat warning, there are some spoilers for book one, Airborn, below.

It’s time for my Wednesday Book Review post and boy am I wishing I didn’t need to write this right now because I’m just getting ready to publish my next book Divinity and I’d rather be working on marketing.  But I know I need to get this book review up because blogging is part of my author platform.  Also, it is fun (even if it distracts me from my primary career choice).  This week I’m reviewing the second book of the Airborn Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel, Skybreaker

A few weeks back I reviewed book one of the series, Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel.  I talked a little bit about how I disliked the sexism in the story and the fact that the main character kind of has some mental health issues.  Read more about that review here.

I came across this series at the request of my son.  He had found it at a library and loved it so much he was trying to get me to read it, so he had someone to talk to about it. Unfortunately, I hate books written in the first-person point of view.  I’m not whoever the main character is and can’t really get into those stories most of the time.  My son’s solution to this was audiobooks.  Listening to an audiobook allows me to listen to the narration as if it is being told to me whereas when I read, I sort of sink myself into the world.  Audiobooks have become a regular part of our daily routine since then.

The series takes place in an alternate history reality where a gas called Hydrium, which is lighter than Hydrogen, has been discovered.  Hydrium is used in large zeppelins called Airships to make intercontinental travel possible.  Airship travel is the preferred form of travel over the ocean as opposed to travel by navel ship.  The time period is somewhere after the invention of the motor engine but prior to the computer age.  I’d guess sometime between the late 1800’s to early 1900’s.  In this world, there has been no “Great War” or World Wars but child employment is commonplace as it was in the 1800’s.  It’s also a point in time where women are not acknowledged to be quite the equals of men and are really only just starting to push for equality in male dominated fields.

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Skybreaker starts off about a year after the first book ends.  Matt has finally gotten a coveted place at the Airship Academy with the reward money he received for defeating the pirate at the end of book one.  While on a training voyage his crew see an abandoned ghost ship which is rumored to be full of treasure.  Though he tells no one per the captain’s orders, the information is leaked to the newspapers and of course the irrepressible Kate DuVries decides she needs to be the one to retrieve everything on the ship and she needs Matt’s help to do it because he’s the only person who knows where the ship was last seen as the navigator of the training vessel died shortly after the last voyage.

Unfortunately, the reason the treasure-ghost-ship hasn’t been spotted before is because it is so high up that no other ships can reach it.  Enter the Skybreaker, a specially designed ship whose engines are completely contained in such a way that they won’t shut down in the low pressure and low atmosphere.  Adventure ensures with a race to the treasure against pirates and treasure hunters.

What I love about this story is the unique twist on reality.  I’m not talking about technology; I’m talking about the biology.  In this world the sky is like an extension of the ocean (or an ocean of itself) with various forms of life purely adapted to “swimming” in the air without ever touching down on the ground (or the water for that matter).  To me this is fascinating and wish that more of it had been explored in greater depth.

Matt’s main squeeze is Kate, a rich spoiled heiress who manages to go on dangerous adventures by blackmailing the companion her parents hired to keep her out of trouble.  All of this is done in the pursuit of science as Kate wants to be a respected biologist.  While I admire Kates dedication and absolutely (almost pathological) absences of fear (or common sense), I hate that what she blackmails her companion with is the fact that the woman has bad taste in men and she doesn’t want her employers to know about the cads she has dated and was abandoned by.  Kate is also manipulative and a little bit abusive in how much she takes Matt for granted.  However, Matt is a little bit of a chauvinist and I’m not his biggest fan.

One of the amazing things about the Airborn series is that all the audiobooks have a full cast (meaning a different voice actor for each character), mood music, and sound effects.  It’s like listening to a movie without actually watching it but getting all the stuff you don’t see explained to you in narration.  I love listening to this book and the rest of the series.  The voice actor choses to play Matt, the main character, does a fantastic job of it.

Overall, I’d rate the Skybreaker a DD for Delights Delilah and 4 out of 5 stars. 

Why?  On the one hand it promotes strong female characters.  On the other hand, all the female characters either love Matt, or are characters which Matt is not attracted to.  It relegates otherwise strong women to an emotional dependence on the male main character.  Not something I appreciated when my son read it.

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