Joint Book Review: Airman and Airborn

It’s bucketloads of fun to find two books that are so alike, you think they ought to have been written by the same author into the same series.

Two such books are Airman, by Eoin Colfer, and Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel.  Both have remarkable parallels.  It’s rather obvious that these two books are alike by just looking at the titles.  Here I will offer a spoiler-free review for both books in turn.  But first, a word about both.

I’ve always been fascinated by the air, just as with the sea.  Both are seemingly untamed and vast.  Travel in either is always a fun topic for me to think about.  Space travel, of course, is fun for all.  But I digress.  Let me just say that for me, both of these are terribly appealing to read about.  There’s just something cool about falling to your possible death through thousands of feet of atmosphere, and the best thing is that you’re still stuck firmly to the ground, since you’re only reading about it.  Just like there’s something cool about fighting your way around Cape Horn against the roaring forties, though you’re still in that relatively airless cubicle you call your room.  Extreme sports are so much fun when the only person who could possibly die is fictional.  On with the double review, shall we?

Airman, Eoin Colfer:  This book is my favorite of all Colfer’s works.  It is set mostly on two fictional islands: the Saltees, sometime prior to the invention of the first airplane.  Conor Broekhart is the son of the security official for the King of the Saltees.  Conor was born in a hot-air balloon, so he’s obviously destined for aerial greatness.  After being framed for the death of his tutor and King, Conor is incarcerated by his own father.  He eventually escapes and uses his ideas to become the mysterious Airman.

This is, as I have said, a great book.  The plot is excellent, the humor is superb and the characters are expertly handled.  Plot twists appear from nowhere like ants just after I’ve dropped my baklava.  Good rule of thumb for books like this is this: whatever you think, you’re wrong.

Airborn, Kenneth Oppel:  I just finished the third book in this trilogy two days ago, so I’ll review them all equally, though only naming the first.  These three books– Airborn, Skybreaker and Starclimber– are on par with Airman.  The books immerse you completely in the character’s many plights with a sense of suspense not found in many books I’ve been reading recently.  The humor level is perfect.  The characters are remarkably vivid, and such that you fall in love with the meanest of them.  The scenes are literally breathtaking.  (I don’t know why, but there are parts of this trilogy that I found myself holding my breath.)  The feels are real as if the reader was one of the characters.  The writing, in short, is brilliant.  Though Airman is good for young and old alike, Airborn is more for young adult.  I won’t go into details for that would render my blog unfit for younger readers.

But a summary is called for (the first book only).  In a world in the midst of the Industrial Revolution, where airships– not airplanes– rule the skies, Matt Cruse is a cabin boy aboard the Aurora, the airship his father worked on until his untimely death.  Matt also felt led to the skies because of his singular birth; he was born halfway over the Atlanticus (equivalent of the Atlantic) in an airship.  (Here you first see the parallels between these books.)  After a rather inadvisable bump with air pirates (literally), the Aurora crash-lands on an uncharted island in the Pacificus (equivalent of the– oh, you get it).  Pulled along by a young heiress who thinks the island houses an unidentified species of flying cat, Cruse finds more than he bargained for.

Wow, I didn’t know I could write reviews with that much suspense stuffed in them.  Think I did all right?  I probably won’t do it again.

Anyway, I’m glad I read both of these books.  They were arrived at through different methods (Airman was found when I followed Colfer’s works, but Airborn was found when I was looking for a slightly interesting book anywhere I could find it) and at different times, but I enjoyed both equally.  For those who haven’t read either, go read them.  For those who have read other things of Oppel’s, tell me if I should read them.  For those who have read both but not more, I don’t want to talk to you.

Leave a comment


  1. Airborn is one of my absolute favorite series – Kate is fantastic, isn’t she?

    • She is quite the character. Of course, she’s absolutely annoying. But yes, she adds a lot to the story. Ha! If she weren’t there, there would be no story. Cruse would just become a more modern Robinson Crusoe in the first book, and the second and third wouldn’t even follow.
      Do you know if it’s a proper trilogy, or if there are more than three books (published or planned)?

      • I’m pretty sure that it’s a proper trilogy – as far as I know, Kenneth Oppel has no plans for a fourth. He’s working on other projects.

      • Okay, that’s good to know. I keep calling it a trilogy without actually knowing.

  2. Charley R

     /  May 31, 2012

    I like Eoin Colfer, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read anything of his – Artemis Fowl, I think, one in the series ,was the last of his I read. I like the sound of this book, though. I get very airsick myself, but the prospect of the sky really does fascinate me, as it seems to do you as well. I may invest in that one sometime in the future.

    Love your balaclava and ants metaphor, as well. Your creative language never ceases to entertain and amaze me 🙂

  3. Sorry for the rather late comment 🙂
    I have read both these books, and enjoyed each immensely, although Airborn more than Airman. I recently read another “airship” book, Behemoth, by Scott Westerfeld, which I thoroughly recommend, although it may be a little more aimed at readers just below the YA mark. It involves yet again another MC destined for the air.

  4. My mom is trying to make me read Airborn…


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