Skybreaker, by Kenneth Oppel

When I was searching for new books recently, prosthesis on the internet, I came across the publication date for the third book in this series (Starclimber), which reminded me I’d never read book 2. The series started with Airborn, and I’d bought the second volume for my husband for his birthday in 2008. In any case, Kenneth Oppel is Canadian, and has written a couple series for children; he has won a fair number of awards, mostly Canadian. Born on Vancouver Island, he spent his childhood either there or in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is the opposite end of the country. The first two books in this trilogy were recently released in paperback, and the third book will be published very soon.

Skybreaker continues the story of Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, and because it’s a sequel, I’m cutting the plot discussion. Matt is a student at the Academy, in Paris, and has almost completed his first year. Kate also lives in Paris, and she’s studying anatomy and biology avidly. When Matt was on one of his two-week training missions, he spots a legendary ship, the Hyperion, floating at 20,000 feet — well above where normal airships fly. Enough people get wind of this that Kate decides to mount a mission to catch the ship. Unfortunately, there are very few ships that can fly that high, but she finds one. Will they catch the ship and find the treasure aboard?

There are, of course, some complicating factors. The only ship in the area that can make it up that far (a kind of ship called a skybreaker) is called the Sagarmatha, and it’s owned by Hal Slater, who would love to court Kate. Matt isn’t terribly fond of him, for obvious reasons. On the other side, we have a Roma girl named Nadira, who claims to have the only key that can get them into the Hyperion. She’s quite attractive, and Kate isn’t terribly fond of her, for similarly obvious reasons. Hal is a bit shady, and Nadira is quite secretive, and other than the attraction-jealousy factor, Kate and Matt are each suspicious of what the other two are hiding.

They also aren’t the only ones looking for the ship, and some of these searchers are not terribly honest, honorable, or otherwise helpful. The man who originally owned the Hyperion was a scientist (hence Kate’s interest), and he may have invented some interesting things that other people would love to get their hands on. In addition to that, they have the weather to contend with — up at that height, things are very cold, and the air gets quite thin. Human beings aren’t really intended to be up that high without a pressurized cabin, and they can’t afford to pressurize the cabin and pump in oxygen full-time. Also, who knows if there are any creatures up that high?

It’s a very exciting story, with the same element of danger and survival that characterized large portions of the first volume. The jealousy-misunderstanding romantic plot was a bit cheesy, but what can one expect from a YA novel? It very well might be the reader’s first time encountering such a story, and to a newbie, it won’t seem quite so trite and frustrating (“JUST ASK HER ABOUT IT!”). I still like Kate quite a bit, and if Matt is a bit wallpaper-paste, the rest of the characters certainly make up for it. I still have a bit of trouble suspending my disbelief about hydrium (which is lighter than hydrogen but inert), but it was certainly easier the second time around. 4/5 stars.

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