This is the third book in a great series, after Airborn and Skybreaker. Matt Cruse is still a pilot-in-training at the Academy, and he’s moonlighting as an aerotug pilot in Paris, working on the Celestial Tower that will one day allow people to travel into outer space. Kate is also in Paris, attempting to earn scientific credibility despite her research on life forms that some scientists still refuse to believe exist. Their relationship has grown more serious and yet their class issues are becoming an even bigger roadblock — though Kate meets Matt’s working-class family, she still hasn’t told her wealthy parents about Matt. When Matt foils a terrorist attack on the Celestial Tower (as he is wont to do), he’s invited to return to Canada to train for a new, top-secret mission: the first flight into outer space. Kate is also invited on this mission, as part of the scientific team who will observe life in outer space. Matt undergoes rigorous training to become an astralnaut, but he almost doesn’t make it aboard; at the same time, Kate’s parents tell her she is only allowed to go if she agrees to marry a man of their choice. Matt, being supremely lucky as always, manages to secure himself a place on the ship, and Kate, being as hard-headed as she is, agrees to marry this man but doesn’t intend to follow-through. (Does she tell Matt this? What do you think?) During the journey, there’s tension between Matt and Kate; between Kate and the other scientist on board, who happens to be her most vocal dissenter; and between Matt and an older, dismissive astralnaut, but none of that matters when the astral cable supporting their ship breaks, putting them all at risk.
Just like the others in the series, this is a straight-out, fast-paced, swashbuckling adventure; the series has always reminded me of Indiana Jones or other adventure classics like Treasure Island. Okay, I will admit that I was skeptical about space travel in the context of Oppel’s alternate Victorian-era world, but he managed to pull it off convincingly and imaginatively. And of course, Oppel works in as much realism as he possible, if not in how Matt and Kate travel to space, then in the effects space travel has on them. I highly enjoyed the physical and mental tests Matt is put through as a part of his astralnaut training (I always enjoy seeing a character’s skills tested in a new way, especially Matt, who is always so capable). As always, Oppel’s secondary characters are as strong as Matt and Kate, from the kooky photographer Miss Karr to the kindly Captain, and the romance drama and internal conflicts never slow down the action.
This is the third book in the series and, I hope, not its final volume (though it does end in a very good place). There’s apparently an Airborn movie being made (hope they don’t screw it up), and wouldn’t it be good marketing to have a fourth book on the way?