Matt and his friends must track down an abandoned old airship and retrieve its treasure before a sinister villain manages to do, and Matt and Kate's romance must survive their adventures and challenges. It has been a long time since I read the Matt Cruse series but re-reading this book makes me remember why I like Kenneth Oppel. If you've read Airborn, the first book in this series, you will like this sequel. In Skybreaker we return to the alternative earth setting of Airborn: everyone lives in the sky like The Jetsons, and the primary mode of transport is by airship due to the predominance of a fictional element/gas called hydrium, which means no airplanes, only airships. Our teenage protagonist Matt returns again, now a full-fledged student pilot at the Airship Academy. Also returning is Matt's girlfriend Kate, the charmingly nerdy, whimsical, smart young heiress-future scientist. I've always loved these two characters.
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During a training exercise over the Indian Ocean, the captain of Matt's training ship, on which Matt and his fellow cadets rotate through duties, spies a stranded and old airship that has the name Hyperion emblazoned on it, identifying it as a lost airship from decades ago that belonged to a billionaire and likely contains much of his fortune. The Hyperion is in the Antarctic, and it is very cold and a dangerous zone to fly in. Their attempt to tow the ship nearly kills them, and the training airship detaches and flies off.
When Matt returns to Canada and the Academy after the training exercise, he tells his friends what happened, as do all of the other cadets, and word gets out. Matt is surprised however when one day on a thoroughfare shopping avenue, a bag goes over his head and he finds himself blinking in a warehouse, when a sinister man named John asks him where he can find the Hyperion. Matt refuses to tell him and he's thrown in a dungeon until he changes his mind. He is rescued by a friendly girl named Nadira, and they escape and find Kate. Kate hunts down and finds the diary of the billionaire, Theodore Grunel, who owned the ship. Together, Matt, Kate, Nadira and Kat's governess/chaperone, the tall and spare Miss Simpkins, pay a pilot named Hal to fly them out to the abandoned old treasure ship on his own sturdy airship, the Sagarmatha.
As they approach the Hyperion, they begin to encounter some of the same dangerous weather conditions that Matt experienced on his training exercise, and one of the crew members die, and Matt replaces him. Nadira and Matt are temporarily romantically interested in each other, while Kate and Hal appear interested in each other as well, and tensions and mistrust mount on the Sagarmatha. It grows worse when Matt catches John attempting to frame Nadira for blaming them, only to then find that Nadira is the daughter of Vikram, the pirate and villain from the previous novel Airborn. However, Matt and Kate decide to trust Nadira. When the arrive at the Hyperion, they examine the ship. But there is no treasure in the old-fashioned sense, except for a chemical formula for hydrium which, if sold, would be worth millions. There is also a menagerie of endangered animals and reptiles, kept alive by the ship all these years. Nadira suggests that they take it and sell it, and Matt is surprised at the lack of animosity between her and Kate.
Then they figure out with clues from Theodore's diary that John was acting on behalf of his employer, a multi-millionaire shipping magnate named Barton who was searching for the Hyperion. They realize that they were followed when John and Barton's airship appears and destroys the Sagarmatha (thankfully empty) and they have to fight them to protect the Hyperion. The ensuing gun battle is violent and bloody, with the animals entering into the fray and killing both Barton and apparently John. And though they manage to save the formula from getting into Barton's hands, it is destroyed when the Hyperion blows up. They escape through an emergency ornithopter, and find a secret stash of gold in its hold as they fly away. Kate and Matt reconcile, Kate waving off Matt's flirtation with Nadira in her no-nonsense way.
Best part of story, including ending:
I actually really enjoyed the group dynamics on the Sagarmatha, it was very much like a traditional "fellowship of the ring goes on a quest" except that the group dynamics were more mature, more complex, more dysfunctional and everyone's motives were less noble.
Best scene in story:
I enjoyed the weird and outlandish menagerie of animals, some of which are clearly fantastical, onboard the Hyperion. It reminded me other fantasy novels like the Philip Pullman books, it's just one of those scenes that draw you into the weirdness of a make-believe world a little more.
Opinion about the main character:
I though Matt's romance drama was a little cheesy and ridiculous.