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Skybreaker

by Kenneth Oppel

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 compelling psychological thriller in addition to a great old-fashioned adventure tale, this is an enthralling read for ages 10 and up.