by Kenneth Oppel (Author)
At its most basic, this is almost a fairy-tale of wish fulfilment, where the unloved and dispossessed face horror and adventure, are tested and found to be made of stern stuff, and ultimately find that they can realise their dreams and full potential unshackled by the strict codes of a patriarchal society that previously held them in positions of powerlessness. Airborn is an adventure story set on a parallel earth, where airships are the dominant mode of transport. Maps of the ship are provided, but some readers may need to research the mechanics and history of airship travel in order to engage fully with the text.
In the fictional society, free education does not exist and women have not achieved equal rights to men. Matt, the narrator, is a poor cabin boy (wannabe sailmaker), who befriends Kate, a wealthy passenger (and wannabe naturalist), aboard the Aurora airship. Both are constrained in their lifestyles by accidents of birth. He desires promotion, but cannot afford the necessary education, while she desires freedom and to be taken seriously in her choice of career. When the airship is attacked by pirates, it sets off a chain of events and adventures that enable both to fulfil their ambitions.
The early chapters are full of promise but this is not carried through, because the plot is at times derivative and the style constrained by the limitations of first-person narrative. The book brims over with stereotypes: brave and resourceful hero, headstrong heroine, wise and honourable captain, bloodthirsty pirates (some are, interestingly, named after Dublin suburbs) and it disappointingly fails to offer anything more than easy solutions to the questions of inequality that are raised.