Book Review: Skybreaker

Skybreaker is the sequel to Airborn in a series of young adult steampunk books, set in a world where the aeroplane has not yet been invented. You can read my review of Airborn here.

Taking off from (no pun intended) Airborn, Skybreaker follows the protagonists Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, as they board the airship Sagarmartha in an attempt to find a mysterious ghost ship, lost in the air, and the treasure left buried inside it.

I think Skybreaker is a better book than Airborn for the following reasons.

The descriptions are clearer, the dialogue is a lot wittier, and the overall writing is better*. Furthermore, characters – both those newly introduced and those from Airborn – are developed and the relationships between these characters are more complex.

*I’m pleased to report that Matt Cruse did not feel any ‘tingles’ in this book!

This character development really helped to shape the protagonists – something lacking from Airborn – , so I knew them better and decide who I liked and who I disliked; I liked the character of Matt, but strongly disliked Kate.

Matt Cruse comes from a lower social status, but longs to better himself. He is hardworking, caring, and eager to be of assistance whenever he can. Albeit, he envies those with more money because with money comes opportunities and power, and he hopes that this will help him win the heart of Kate de Vries.

Kate de Vries is from a wealthy background and used to a comfortable life, with a passion for flying and travelling. However, she has a tendency to, whether intentional or not, look down on those lower than her – Matt included – and spend time with men of a higher social status. She is arrogant, and offended by the very notion that her flirtations with those in society who are rich might make Matt feel unable to “compete” because of his social class.

Skybreaker has a similar dramatic beginning to its predecessor, something I initially thought was a positive. Yet, as I continued to read the book, I noticed a lot of other glaring plot similarities, which at times felt like I was reading the same book, just with better writing:

Matt learns of a mysterious ship (an air balloon/ Sagarmatha) carrying a mysterious man (Benjamin Malloy/Theodore Grunel), who has a mysterious journal about a mysterious discovery (a new species of animal). Kate and Matt have a rocky friendship, Kate grows closer to a boy of a higher class (Bruce/Hal) and together the youths must seek out the mysterious discovery, protecting the secrets from a troupe of villains (Vikram Szpirglas /John Rath).

It’s a shame the plot of Skybreaker is so similar, and I hope this doesn’t become a trope of Oppel’s writing; in my review of Airborn, I specifically praised the book for being able to cover various different genres without falling into the trap of recycling stereotypical genre conventions.

However, despite this criticism, I did enjoy reading Skybreaker a lot more than the first book – I read it in just 2 days.

Will I read the other books in this series? Quite possibly.

– Judith

 

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Book Review: A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is a dystopian novel by Anthony Burgess set in a future English society where extreme youth violence is common.

‘He and his gang rampage through a dystopian future, hunting for terrible thrills.’

The book’s protagonist, Alex, narrates his violent exploits of and experiences with authorities who attempt to reform his behaviour.

As I first started reading A Clockwork Orange, I thought I wouldn’t be able to finish it! While a short book, is written in unusual futuristic slang that I initially found hard to understand. This is the same barrier that I faced when reading Trainspotting.

However, the brain is a remarkable thing and adjusts to new styles of writing relatively quickly. Once I was accustomed to the language, the narrative was fairly easy to follow.

In another similarity with Trainspotting, Alex is a roguish protagonist who speaks directly to the audience through direct address – using phrases like ‘Your Humble Narrator’ – which creates a jovial tone, even while he describes the horrible things he’s seen, said and done.

The plot is filled with taboo acts and violence, and the attempts to correct Alex’s behaviour seem akin to experimentation on animals.

Alex’s acts of violence upon others are contrasted with the acts of “corrective” violence imposed upon him by the state, suggesting that within certain contexts, inflicting cruelty on others is acceptable or even advocated as the right thing to do.

The book also questions free will: If it were possible to eradicate someone’s free will to prevent them committing a crime, is that acceptable? Yet the removal of free will leaves the individual completely at risk of being controlled by another – another who may utilise this power for ill themselves.

I don’t think A Clockwork Orange answers these questions, and these are only my initial thoughts upon a first reading.

Hopefully, once I’ve explored some further analysis of the book, I’ll be able to look at these questions again.

 

– Judith

Book Review: Airborn

Airborn is a young adult steampunk* / alternative history / adventure novel by Kenneth Oppel. The aeroplane has not yet been invented, and airships are the main form of transportation instead.

*Steampunk: A genre of science fiction that has a historical setting and typically features steam-powered machinery.

The story follows two teenage characters: Matt Cruse, a cabin boy for the airship Aurora, and Kate de Vries, a wealthy passenger aboard the Aurora. After a rocky introduction and some differing opinions, the two grow closer and attempt to discover a new species of flying creature, following clues to its existence left behind by Kate’s grandfather.

Airborn was an unusual read, and definitely not a book I would normally choose.

The opening of the book was incredibly dramatic – a rare find for novels in the YA spectrum – and this made the story seem immediately engaging. Furthermore, the plot regularly features action-packed scenes with dramatic or unpredictable twists that truly felt as if they could have been in a film; Oppel’s writing in places is vivid and cinematic.

I quite liked the mix of genres; this assisted my enjoyment of the story greatly, because without an explicit genre to conform to, genre conventions (and stereotypes) were fewer and further between, and much more subtle – this is another rare find within the YA spectrum.

Airborn is written in the first-person, which is not my favourite narrative style. Yet I was impressed that expository information about the characters and the world in which Airborn is set was subtly dropped in throughout the book. This characterisation allows you to learn more, the more you read,  which is a lovely alternative to the “information dump” technique** favoured by many other first-person narratives.

**The “information dump” technique provides minor details that have little relation to the plot all in one go – usually at the very start of the book – and looks a little like this:

“I suppose I should tell you about myself. I’m 5’1, I have long brown hair and blue eyes. I like reading and writing. My favourite colour is blue. Anyway, back to the plot….”

However, despite my enjoyment of the story and the characterisation, I had some minor issues with some of Oppel’s writing. The first-person perspective, whilst it isn’t bad, leads to Matt describing his feelings frequently and unnecessarily generally these feelings involve a tingle*** down his spine, a tingle across his back or a tingle in his mind.

***I don’t believe anyone should tingle that much.

Oppel also overly relies on some words I have gradually been growing a dislike of, such as ‘chuckle’ and ‘guffaw’. I will admit though, these issues are nit-picky and didn’t damage my perception of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the majority of Airborn, and if you like alternative history, science fiction, action and adventure, young adult, or any other genre – there’s a strong chance you too will like Airborn!

– Judith