This is the third book in the Airborn series, I’ve read and reviewed the previous two (Airborn and Skybreaker) and was a big fan of them, partly because of my romantic obsession with airships. Much was my disappointment when I found out that airships were abandoned in favour of a space elevator in this book.
The main cast is back as before, Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries, the young lovers who must hide their affections because of the gap in their societal status. Added to this are a few returning regulars (Chef Vlad, Captain Walken and Otto Lunardi). This time they’re going to space, although they’re opposed by the Babelites, a group set on destroying the two attempts to reach space (the French Celestial Tower and the Canadian space elevator).
The opening scene is supposed be some sort of James Bond-style pre-credit sequence I’m guessing, but it’s lacklustre and doesn’t do much to draw you in. I was afraid I wasn’t going to be able to engage, after a few chapters I got hooked but never really settled. Part of the reason for this was the jealous relationship between Matt and Kate, continued from the previous book, where it was annoying, and taken to new levels to make it irritating. Kate seems to be playing with Matt’s emotions, or maybe using him as she doesn’t really care, and Matt spends most of his time besotted or enraged by her. It’s just generally annoying and ends up getting in the way more than anything else, I don’t remember it really being used for a plot reason either (like they’re not talking and one ends up in a bad situation because of it). It would have been nice, at least, to have seen it switched, with competition for Matt’s affections causing Kate to doubt.
So Matt undertakes training to become an astralnaut (their version of an astronaut) and, with a bit of luck, gets chosen as one of the few to go into space. He struggles to prove himself as the fourth-choice (getting his spot as the guy ahead of him breaks a leg) and never really seems to become the man we know he will.
As for the rest, I thought Shepherd and Bronfman were basically just rips from Top Gun and that taking Matt out of his expert turf (an airship) was a waste of time, he spends the entire time out of his depth. I thought the Babelites were under-used and that having one aboard the ship would have been a great dramatic twist, plus given Matt a chance to show his heroic side, instead he gets a few half-hearted rescue scenes. The book skirts any religious issues, probably not a bad thing from the publisher’s perspective.
Not my favourite of the series, but still readable and enjoyable. Back to airships next time, Mr Oppel, if you please.