Goodreads ratings
4.17 / 5

"Airborn" Summary

By Kenneth Oppel

steampunk | 501 pages | Published in NaN

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.


Estimated read time: 6 min read

One Sentence Summary

A young cabin boy and a high-spirited female balloonist team up to explore uncharted territories in a thrilling steampunk adventure.


In "Airborn" by Kenneth Oppel, readers are taken on a thrilling adventure through a world of airships and mysterious creatures. This young adult novel combines elements of steampunk, adventure, and coming-of-age, making it a captivating read for audiences of all ages. With its vivid world-building and engaging characters, "Airborn" offers a unique and imaginative tale that keeps readers on the edge of their seats from beginning to end.

Brief Synopsis

Plot Overview

"Airborn" is set in an alternate version of the early 20th century, where air travel is the primary mode of transportation. The story follows the adventures of Matt Cruse, a cabin boy aboard the luxurious airship Aurora. When the airship discovers a stranded hot air balloon with a dying balloonist named Benjamin Malloy, Matt becomes embroiled in a thrilling quest for treasure, encountering strange and dangerous creatures along the way.


The majority of the story takes place aboard the Aurora, an opulent airship that travels across the skies. The rest of the adventure unfolds in exotic locales, from lush tropical islands to mysterious, uncharted territories in the sky.

Main Characters

Below are the main characters in "Airborn" along with brief descriptions:

Matt CruseA dedicated and resourceful cabin boy on the airship Aurora, with a passion for the skies.
Kate de VriesA spirited and adventurous young heiress who becomes entangled in the quest for treasure.
Captain WalkenThe enigmatic and authoritative leader of the airship Aurora, commanding respect from the crew.
Benjamin MalloyA dying balloonist whose mysterious discovery sets the wheels of adventure in motion.

Story Points Over Chapters

Chapters 1-5

Matt Cruse diligently carries out his duties aboard the Aurora, maintaining the airship's smooth operation. He recounts the fateful encounter with a stranded hot air balloon and the dying balloonist, Benjamin Malloy. As the Aurora continues its journey, Matt forms a bond with the curious and spirited Kate de Vries, who shares her ambitious dreams with him.

Chapters 6-10

The airship crew encounters a violent storm, and Matt's quick thinking and bravery help save the Aurora from disaster. Meanwhile, Kate's independent and adventurous spirit leads her to explore the airship's hidden corridors and compartments, where she stumbles upon a remarkable discovery.

Chapters 11-15

As the journey progresses, Matt and Kate uncover evidence that suggests the existence of mysterious flying creatures. Their search for the truth takes them to uncharted territories, where they encounter breathtaking landscapes and perilous situations. Despite the dangers, their determination to uncover the secrets of the sky leads them deeper into the unknown.

Chapters 16-20

The pursuit of adventure and discovery brings Matt and Kate face to face with the elusive creatures, leading to moments of wonder and danger. Their encounters challenge their perceptions of the world and ignite a fierce desire to unravel the mysteries that lie beyond the reaches of conventional knowledge.

Chapters 21-25

As the story hurtles toward its climax, the characters find themselves embroiled in a race against time, facing unforeseen obstacles and unexpected allies. The revelations they uncover reshape their understanding of the world around them, and their resolve is tested as they confront the truth behind the enigmatic creatures that inhabit the sky.

Main Events

  • Discovery of the stranded hot air balloon and the dying balloonist, Benjamin Malloy
  • Encounter with a violent storm and the subsequent display of bravery and quick thinking by Matt
  • Kate's discovery of a remarkable secret aboard the Aurora
  • Uncovering evidence suggesting the existence of mysterious flying creatures
  • Exploration of uncharted territories and encounters with perilous situations
  • Face-to-face encounters with the elusive creatures, leading to moments of wonder and danger
  • A race against time, unforeseen obstacles, and unexpected allies as the characters pursue their quest for truth

Themes and Insights


  • Adventure and Exploration: The novel celebrates the thrill of adventure and the unyielding spirit of exploration, as the characters venture into uncharted territories and encounter the unknown.
  • Courage and Resilience: The story highlights the importance of courage and resilience in the face of adversity, as the characters confront perilous situations and unexpected challenges.
  • Friendship and Loyalty: The bonds of friendship and loyalty are tested and strengthened as the characters rely on each other during their daring quest.
  • Curiosity and Discovery: The theme of curiosity and discovery drives the characters to seek answers and unravel the mysteries of the sky, leading to profound revelations.


"Airborn" offers insights into the human spirit's boundless capacity for curiosity, bravery, and the pursuit of knowledge. The novel also explores the wonders of the natural world and the resilience of the human spirit in the face of the unknown.

Reader's Takeaway

Readers of "Airborn" are treated to a captivating journey filled with adventure, discovery, and unexpected twists. The novel's vivid descriptions and imaginative world-building transport readers to a realm where the skies are alive with mystery and wonder. The themes of courage, friendship, and the unyielding pursuit of truth resonate with readers of all ages, making "Airborn" a truly captivating and memorable read.


"Airborn" by Kenneth Oppel delivers a compelling narrative that seamlessly weaves together elements of adventure, mystery, and the unbreakable human spirit. With its richly imagined world and engaging characters, the novel offers a captivating reading experience that leaves a lasting impression on its audience. Whether soaring through the skies or delving into the depths of the unknown, "Airborn" invites readers to embrace the thrill of exploration and the enduring power of the human heart.

Airborn FAQ

  1. What is the genre of 'Airborn'?

    Airborn is a young adult steampunk novel, combining elements of adventure, fantasy, and science fiction.

  2. Who is the author of 'Airborn'?

    The author of 'Airborn' is Kenneth Oppel.

  3. What is the main plot of 'Airborn'?

    The main plot of 'Airborn' follows the adventures of a cabin boy named Matt Cruse aboard the airship Aurora. The story involves a mysterious girl, pirates, and the pursuit of a legendary creature.

  4. Is 'Airborn' part of a series?

    Yes, 'Airborn' is the first book in the Matt Cruse series, followed by 'Skybreaker' and 'Starclimber'.

  5. What age group is 'Airborn' suitable for?

    'Airborn' is suitable for young adult readers, typically aged 12 and above.