Airborn: One Of My Favorite Steampunk Alternate History Books

Airborn is written by Kenneth Oppel. It was published in 2004 by Eos. It is the first book in a trilogy.


Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt’s always wanted; convinced he’s lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist’s granddaughter that he realizes that the man’s ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.


This book is what I wish The Lost Kingdom had been like. I adore Airborn, and not just because it’s steampunk or takes place in the 1800s. It’s charming, hilarious at times, and is filled with lots of action and adventure, especially towards the end. There’s something so fulfilling about two fifteen-year-olds taking back a ship captured by pirates singlehandedly, using nothing but their brains and their knowledge of the aircraft.

There’s also the archaeological/discovery Quest angle that just puts the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake. The cloud cats are well-invented and add just a touch more of delicious wonder to an already wonder-filled book. One of my favorite things about Oppel’s Airborn trilogy is precisely this sort of Quest that is present in each one, not to mention the fact that Matt and Kate are adorable.

Speaking of Matt and Kate, it’s hard not to notice the similarities between this story and the Titanic, except in this case there’s a lot less death. Oppel is very good at keeping the struggle of class present, especially in Matt’s thoughts, but also going beyond that to show that these two characters simply fit well together, making you want to root for them all the way through.

Oppel is very good with details and descriptions, but at times it feels like it goes on slightly too long. Also, while the themes of “airborn” and “airborne” are nice, they are laid on slightly too thick.

Finally, let me point out this absolute gem of a conversation:

“You two were in a cave together?” said Miss Simpkins in horror.

“Yes,” said Kate, “and it was very, very dark.”

“Ladies, a pleasure, as always,” said Captain Walken.

Rating: 4/5

Recommended Age Range: 14+

Warnings: Gun and animal violence (as in violence of an animal), death.

Genre: Young Adult, Steampunk


It was not just a skull, but an entire skeleton, hunched down against the branch like something about to pounce. I wondered how long it had been here. Insects hummed and trilled and danced in the heat. Light slanted through the vines. The bones gleamed. Its claws were locked deep into the bark in its final death grip. Its flesh had been picked clean, but its bones were still miraculously attached, bound together by sun-cured sinew and leathery bits of muscle. It was easily seven feet from head to tail. It had died on this very branch. It had been here forever, just waiting to be discovered.

~Oppel 145

Overall Review:

Airborn is a gem, one of those books that will sweep you up and carry you off on a marvelous adventure. There’s airships and pirates and romance, oh my! There’s room for improvement, but that makes the hook for the next book all that more tantalizing.

You can buy this here: Airborn

3 thoughts on “Airborn: One Of My Favorite Steampunk Alternate History Books

  1. Pingback: The Expeditioners and the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon by S. S. Taylor | Leaf's Reviews

  2. Pingback: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel | Leaf's Reviews

  3. Pingback: Skybreaker: Continuing The Awesomeness Of The First Book | Leaf's Reviews

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