________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 6 . . . . November 10, 2005



Kenneth Oppel.
Toronto, ON: HarperCollins, 2005.
340 pp., cloth, $22.99.
ISBN 0-00-200699-5.

Grades 7-11 / Ages 12-16.

Review by Sylvia Pantaleo.

**** /4



There could be no one in the Control Car who hadn't heard of the Hyperion. She was a ship of legend, like the Marie Céleste, or the Colossus – vessels that had set out from harbour and never reached their destinations. The Hyperion was rumoured to be carrying great wealth. She may have crashed, or been pillaged by pirates. But no wreckage was ever found. Over the years sky sailors sometimes claimed to have spotted her, always fleetingly and from afar, and usually on foggy nights.


Aboard the Flotsam, on his training tour from the Paris Airship Academy to study navigation, 16-year-old Matt Cruse and the crew sight the legendary ghost ship, the Hyperion. Captain Tritus recklessly pursues the Hyperion to dangerous altitudes, and, if not for the actions of Matt, the crew and ship of the Flotsam would have been lost.

     Once back in Paris, Matt soon discovers that his knowledge of the coordinates of the sighting of the Hyperion are of great interest to several individuals. Kate de Vries, his upper-class sweetheart and co-adventurer from Airborn is most interested in Theodore Grunel's zoological specimens on board the Hyperion. She has contacted Hal Slater, captain of the Sagarmatha, a ship known as a skybreaker because it can fly at altitudes never reached before by humankind. Nadira, a mysterious gypsy girl, who claims to have the key to the Hyperion's booby-trapped cargo holds, also wants to be a part of the salvage adventure. Soon the four characters embark on a quest to find the Hyperion and its treasures.

     Matt is jealous of Hal's success and suspects that the handsome and self-assured captain is interested in Kate. However, Matt finds himself attracted to Nadira, although in his heart he knows that Kate is his true love. This romantic tension combines with the suspense of the discovery and exploration of the ice-entombed Hyperion. Once aboard the ghost ship, Matt, Kate, Hal and Nadira discover Grunel's zoological museum and his many technological inventions. However, the gold treasure remains elusive. The group must survive attacks from aerozoans, deadly jellyfish-like creatures; cope with the physical demands of high altitudes as they explore the ship; and battle John Rath, another individual who seeks the Hyperion. Rath is interested in the Prometheus Engine, a machine invented by Grunel that can create power from nothing but water. The machine will wipe out The Aruba Consortium, a group headed by Mr. Rath, that controls the majority of the world's oil supply.

     The aerial expedition includes romance, pirates, sky monsters, disturbed spirits, and ingenious flying machines. The characters are interesting with their own idiosyncrasies, and each possesses his/her specific goals and challenges. The dynamics among the strong and courageous characters create tension, intrigue and amusement. Oppel includes intertextual connections to the myths of Icarus and Prometheus, as well as the sea adventures 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Poseidon Adventure. Although the plot resonates with elements from other stories, Skybreaker is original because of the fantastical and imaginative world and events created by Oppel. The book is charged with adrenaline, and the writing is smart and engaging. The thrilling adventure grips the reader from the first page of the book.

     I thoroughly enjoyed Airborn, but Skybreaker, its sequel, is exceptional story telling. Via his publisher Oppel has stated that a third book is not “in the works right now” and that “he never planned to write a trilogy” about Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries. Let's hope he changes his mind!


Highly Recommended.

Sylvia Pantaleo is a language arts professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria in Victoria, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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