Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Book Review: Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel

This is the third book in a YA series which I actually can't believe I haven't reviewed previously on this blog.  The books in order are AirbornSkybreaker, and Starclimber.

All three books follow the adventures of Matt Cruse, who when we meet him in Airborn is a cabin boy on a luxury passenger airship, and Kate Devries, a wealthy young woman with a passion for science.  The two are thrown together on various adventures, large portions of which take place on ships of one kind or another.  There are sky pirates, mad scientists, and lots of strange creatures.  Kate's obsession is the discovery of animals or lifeforms previously unknown to science and much of the plot focuses on these scientific discoveries.

The characters are strong, with Matt Cruse a determined and talented young man determined to make something of himself, and Kate DeVries a privileged and sometimes self-absorbed young woman who defies convention to live her passion.  I love practical, intellectual, unemotional female characters, and you don't really get enough of them, especially in YA fiction.  The supporting casts of adults tend towards the comic, and mostly keep things light and fun.

So is it steampunk?  Oh, yes, very.  It's set around the turn of the 20th century, there's lots and lots of advanced technology, particularly a very well-developed airship system, and there's a strong focus on scientific discovery and exploration of the unknown.  One thing I adore with these books is that they capture the optimism of the period, when the boundaries of science were completely untested and anything was possible.

Which brings me to the third novel, Starclimber, which I recently finished.  The topic of this one is
space travel!  Matt and Kate are invited to participate in the launch of a top-secret vessel to Outer Space.  At first, I admit I was a bit skeptical.  'This book is just going to skip all the years of slow incremental steps the actual Space Program went through and just launch a ship with a full crew into space on the first go,' I scoffed.  And while yes, that's sort of what happens, I was pleasantly surprised by the ingenuity and originality of the method by which they travel to space.  I won't say more, but I was quite pleased all around, really.  The book manages to be exciting and action-filled while giving lots of space to its characters and their relationships.

Honestly there's no reason NOT to read this series.  It would be great for children of any age, but equally recommended

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