Cover of Airborn by Kenneth Oppel. Art of a young man peering through a spyglass from the top of a dirigible by Peter Riddihoff.
Art by Peter Riddihoff. Click to read an excerpt!

Title: Airborn

Author: Kenneth Oppel

Nutshell: Matt Cruise was meant to fly. Being a cabin boy on the Aurora is as natural as breathing for him, even climbing on the outside of the envelope. And it’s there, outside, as the lookout, that he spots a damaged balloon drifting through the skies. When the crew brings in on board, they find Benjamin Malloy, an explorer who claims he’s seen “beautiful creatures” in the clouds. Unfortunately, Benjamin is feverish and dies shortly, and the rest of the crew write his words off as the ravings of a dying man.

Then Kate deVries, Malloy’s granddaughter, books passage on the Aurora. She believes her grandfather’s dying claims, and is determined to prove them. Matt becomes her willing companion, but they encounter obstacles as ordinary as an overzealous chaperone and as dangerous as pirates.

Read-Alikes: Agatha H. and the Airship City, by Phil and Kaja Folio is… tangentially similar.


This is a very lovely book. It’s compelling but not terrorizing. It was very pleasant, and I enjoyed that about it so much that I still remember how glad I felt reading it a year later.

There’s naught that’s particularly stand-out amazing. But it’s a steampunk doing its thing with excellent skill, and I recommend it unequivocally.

It’s all about the airships with this one. (They’re the blimp-kind, by the way. I had no idea that blimps were designed so that people could go inside the balloon until I read this. There’s a lovely map.)

You know what it is that makes this book special? It’s how very well Matt sees the world. He has so much gladness for just everything in his life, even with all his struggles. He’s so filled with joy to be in the air that nothing else matters a whole lot. Not lost promotions, not nagging chaperones, not pirates, not crashing… Okay, crashing really does bring him low.

But the rest of the book is uplifting.

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