Kenneth Oppel's Starclimber is a worthy sequel to Airborn and Skybreaker, continuing the adventures of young skyship captain-in-training Matt Cruse and his aristocratic (and autocratic) love interest, Kate de Vries. In movie terms (and I think that it would make an excellent movie) Starclimber reads like a cross between Titanic and Apollo 13, with a dash of Top Gun. The Airborn series is set in an alternate universe, with an early 20th century feel, in which airships have developed in place of airplanes. Filled with a gas lighter than air, the airships work pretty much like regular ships, but move through the sky. It seems fitting enough, then, that in the Airborn world, space travel evolves differently than it did in our world (though I won't spoil things by giving you the details). Let it suffice to say that Matt finds himself with the opportunity, if he can make it through a rigorous training process, to be on board the first vessel to enter outer space.
I think that this series is an excellent fit for teenage boys, filled with swashbuckling adventures, strange creatures, and resourceful inventions. Matt is an engaging character, plucky and loyal, but plagued by occasional insecurities. His relationship with Kate faces obstacles, and stays comfortably away from sappiness. Oppel doesn't shy away from revealing Kate's flaws, along with her nobler attributes, and I think that the books are stronger for this. Kate's strong will also makes the series a good one for teenage girls.
In Starclimber, some of the other characters appear one-dimensional at first, but most of these characters reveal hidden depths along the way. Here are a couple of passages, to give you a feel for Oppel's writing and characterization:
"Shepherd was leaning against the balustrade, staring out over the city. He had a thick mustache and high forehead. He turned his cool, appraising eyes on us and gave the smallest of nods. I put him at no more than twenty-five. And already a captain. Confidence wafted off him like heat from a tar roof.
"We're both test pilots," said Bronfman smugly.
I was impressed, but Bronfman already seemed so impressed with himself I refused to show it." (Page 90)
"Dr. Turgenev limped forward, leaning on his cane. He wasn't old -- no more than forty -- but he gave the impression of being crumpled." (Page 96)
"Kate was speechless, but only for a split second. "Of course I'm determined! Everyone should be determined, or else what's the point of living? When a man's determined it's wonderful, but if it's a woman it's horrid and unattractive." She shook her head bitterly." (Page 117)
Overall, I found Starclimber a well-executed example of the adventure genre, with a unique setting, likeable characters, and the right balance between introspection, humor, and action. Experienced adventure fans (whether from books or movies) will not, perhaps, find it wholly suspenseful, since we have certain expectations regarding how these sorts of stories are supposed to turn out. Nevertheless, Starclimber is a fun ride. Fans of the series will not be disappointed. New readers will want to go back and start with Airborn (which was a Printz honor book), to share in all of Matt and Kate's adventures. Highly recommended
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.