Matt Cruse is a 16-year-old cadet at the Air Academy in Paris. He has a natural affinity for flying, and a crush on the rich Kate de Vries. He wants to earn enough to help his hard-up, arthritic mother and his sisters. Matt learns of the location of the lost airship Hyperion, reputed to be carrying vast wealth. Kate wants to catalogue its collection of taxidermy while other people want the gold said to be on board. They bring to the expedition the mysterious Nadira who (literally) holds the key to the Hyperion, and the dashing Hal Slater, captain of a Skybreaker airship. In the background is a shady group who would rather no-one found the ship and its contents.
There’s quite a market these days for simple adventure stories, combining conventional black-and-white thrilling plots with a modern pace and style. The setting here is a technological Edwardiana where airships are the current form of transport. Matt, introduced in Airborn, is regarded as a hero for getting rid of a notorious air pirate, and he’s spent his reward money on a course at the Air Academy. After a training flight, Matt is unwittingly the only one in possession of the coordinates of a mysterious drifting ship from 40 years before.
The story then plots a course between a treasure hunt, mid-air hot pursuit, a ship of ghosts, and a love quadrangle. It manages it quite well, although the static nature of the airship interior results in a story that has to be character-led. To his credit, the author manages to give life to even minor characters such as Slater’s crew, and in particular to the eccentric (dead) genius Grunel.
Particularly of note is the delicate relationship between the poor, brave and insecure Matt and the rich, self-confident but friendly Kate. Matt is very conscious of the difference in their positions and feels lost every time Kate appears to be friendly with another man, especially one who appears to have the glamour and wealth which Matt doesn’t. Kate, while not averse to generating a little jealousy, is faithful to Matt, and the banter between then when they’re fetching water or hiding together in Grunel’s coffin (!) is both amusing and charming.
There are no real surprises in the end: the good guys get their rewards; the bad guys get their comeuppance; the mystery of the Hyperion is revealed (or at least explained). The main characters have something of a character arc, even if it’s a fairly predictable one. If you want a straightforward adventure story with a bit of young romance, read on.
Tim Golden is a computer programmer living in London. He is also the author of the Good-to-Read website.