The first book in a steampunk series.

Publication year: 2004
Format: print
Publisher: HarperCollins
Page count: 322

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the luxury airship Aurora which travels from Lionsgate City, US, to Australia. He loves his job and dreams of being a sailmaker, like is father was. His father worked aboard the Aurora before he died in an accident. Matt is restless on the ground; only aboard an airship can he feel truly alive and also close to his father.

One night, he sees a balloonist nearby. He doesn’t answer any hails, so Matt volunteers for a daring rescue hundreds of miles up in the air. The old balloonist is in a really bad shape but right before he dies, he manages to tell Matt about beautiful creatures in the air. Matt hasn’t seen such things and thinks the balloonist is raving.

A year later, young lady Kate de Vries comes on board the Aurora. She happens to be the old balloonist’s granddaughter and she’s determined to prove that the strange air creatures are real. Matt likes her and he wants to help her. But then the air pirates raid the Aurora.

When I got this book, I didn’t realize it was YA. Matt and Kate are both quite young, even though not children anymore. The nice side effect is that the book has very minimal courtship romance elements.

The captain has promised Matt that he’ll be made a junior sailmaker when an opening comes. However, when a position opens up, it’s goes to another: the son of one of the owners of the air ship line. Matt is bitter but continues his work. He doesn’t really like the passengers because his dream is to work on Aurora and someday, maybe, command it. The passengers aren’t interested in the ship and just want a smooth ride which should be as short as possible.

However, Kate is inquisitive and curious. She wants to know about the ship and that really wins Matt over. Of course, Matt is poor, and Kate is rich, so they both know that nothing can come of their relationship. Also, Matt starts to get jealous of Kate pretty soon. Kate’s chaperone Miss Simpkins is a hilarious figure: she’s dramatic and commanding but also likes to sleep quite a lot. However, Kate is very determined to get what she wants and somewhat spoiled, too.

The story focuses on exploration and adventure which are both things I like quite a lot. It’s quite straight-forward story with a little bit of commentary on the women’s station (especially young women) and the divides between the wealthy and the poor. But mostly adventure.

It doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.