Review of Skybreaker by Kenneth Oppel

January 26, 2010
Filed under: Reviews 

SFFaudio Review

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon HaleSkybreakerSFFaudio Essential
By Kenneth Oppel; Read by a full cast
10 CDs – 11.5 Hours [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Full Cast Audio
Published: 2008
ISBN: 9781934180150
Themes: / Fantasy / Airships / Adventure / Parallel World / Romance / Alternate History / Zoology / Paris / Pirates / Parkour /

High in the sky, far above the normal lanes of travel, drifts a ghost ship carrying unbelievable treasure. Matt Cruise, hero of the wildly popular Airborn, is on the trail of that treasure, with the help of his charming society friend Kate de Vries and a mysterious gypsy girl named Nadira. With them flies Hal Slater, roguish captain of a boldly designed Skybreaker aircraft that can reach heights previously undreamed of. But between Matt and his destination stand ruthless pirates, and an even more ruthless businessman. And what Matt’s crew will find when they finally do reach the Hyperion is far more valuable, far more exciting, and far more dangerous than they ever imagined.

Do you love airships? I know I do. If I had my way I’d double the number of all science fiction and fantasy novels being written with airships. This one, set shortly after the events of Airborn |READ OUR REVIEW|, stars our returning hero Matt Cruse. At the opening of Skybreaker Matt has been attending the world’s premier airship academy in Paris. This last semester his practicum began as assistant navigator on an old cargo airship called the Flotsam. And it’s there, whilst high over the Indian Ocean, that Matt, and the crew of the Flotsam, spot a famous ghost airship called the Hyperion. Supposedly the Hyperion is loaded with the treasures of it’s notorious billionaire inventor (kind of a cross between Howard Hughes and Thomas Edison). Upon his return to Paris, Matt discovers there are several interested parties desirous of the Hyperion’s last known coordinates. Fatefully, this is information that now only Matt knows! Determined to cash in on the knowledge and hunt down the Hyperion’s treasure Matt teams up with a rougish sky-captain named Hal Slater. Slater is the owner of a recently commissioned “skybreaker” called the Sagarmāthā. (which is the nepalese name for Mount Everest). Skybreakers are high performance, high altitude airships. Matt will need one just like it to reach the high drifting Hyperion. But Matt won’t be alone as Paris is full of both dangers and would-be competitors in the hunt for Hyperion. And what kind of a novel set in Paris would be complete without some Parkour? Kenneth Oppel doesn’t disappoint there. When Matt meets Nadira, a girl wjho quite literally holds the key to the Hyperion’s treasure, the first thing do together is jump around, off buildings, running away from some bad dudes.

One thing to bear in mind while reading this fast paced adventure, Kenneth Oppel is far less interested in the rigors of telling a scientifically plausible story than in getting on with the storytelling itself. Despite this Skybreaker does have some rudimentary science in it, notably in the areas of fluid physics (displacement), biology (human adaptability to high altitude) and even some of the zoological sciences. And though the story contains no magic it is probably still best classified as a Fantasy novel due to some very unscientific realities. The lifting gas employed in the Skybreaker universe, for example, is non-flammable (like helium gas), naturally scented of mango (like no high lifting gas on our periodic table), naturally occurring (from deep within the earth and in some animals biologically) and absolutely non-existent in our universe. Some inventions that are featured in the story are not only implausible, but also long discredited in our reality (notably Phrenology). On the plus side it contains a fun Parkour sequence fairly early in the novel. Parkouring-up a scene like that is really cool. Thanks Mr. Oppel!

As with every Full Cast Audio production that I’ve hear I come away from the novel forgetting that it is an audiobook. Skybreaker feels like a full blown audio drama. This is a rather odd realization. There are no sound effects that would normally be created for an audio drama production – they are merely described by the narrator using the actual words written by Kenneth Oppel. One technical difference in the production, as compared with Airborn is what sounds like a bit more bed music. The actors who performed in the first book in this series all return, reprising their roles as appropriate but there are some new actors too. The addition of Hal Slater, for example, is a fine one, voiced by Mark Holt, he comes off very Han Solo-ish. The actress playing Nadira, Ailsa McCaughrean, would be a fine additon to future FCA productions, she portrays a young, brash and impulsive young woman. The actors playing the Sherpas, the crew of the Sagarmatha, present what sounds to my ears as a distinct and possibly even authentic accent. Malcolm Ingram, who plays a villonous sky-pirate turned sky-mercenary sounds a bit like Sean Connery. David Kelly (Matt) and Mark Holt (Hal) even have a chance to sing a sea-shanty turned sky-shanty. This is an aurally rich production that’s a must listen for any fan of airshippery and piratical daring do.

Posted by Jesse Willis

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