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Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
Cover Artist: Shane Rebenschied
Review by Steve Sawicki
HarperTeen Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780060850579
Date: 01 March 2009 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /

This is the third book in Oppel's series involving Matt Cruse and heiress/biologist Kate De Vries. The first two books, Airborn and Skybreaker, established the universe where lighter than air travel is the norm in a world close enough to our own to be familiar but different enough to be engaging. Matt Cruse, now a pilot in training, is invited to take part in a daring exercise to stretch the limits that airships can travel.

This time they're heading to space, floating up a tether that's been constructed and attached to a satellite. Kate De Vries, Matt Cruse's love interest will also be on the trip, except she's not the girl that Cruse thought she was. Seems De Vries got engaged and neglected to tell Cruse. Needless to say, they both journey forth on this adventure of a lifetime where they discover more strange life forms and have to cope with any number of emergencies, both mechanical and human.

This is one of those books that spans the gap between teen and adult and Oppel does a great job keeping it there so both teens and adults will find it enjoyable.

The universe that he creates, a combination of 18th century sensibility combined with 20th century technology, is fascinating in it's simplicity and complexity. The social stratification that drives so much of the behaviors, both in and out of military settings, also drives a lot of the action. And Oppel has created a period where one can break free of genetics and gain acceptance based on what one has done. This creates an environment where both Cruse and De Vries can get past the strictures of their birth--low class for Cruse and gender for De Vries--and hope to gain fame beyond what would normally be expected.

I've enjoyed this series. This is a book that Heinlein would have written had he been alive today. It captures both the energy and excitement of youth as well as the complexity of pushing against rigid social boundaries that no longer work for the society that created them.

The setting is creatively anachronistic so that it works to push the characters but also restrain them. Oppel also develops the stress and strain between Cruse and De Vries that young love separated by class will bring. He does a good job of mixing the normal conflict of being that age with the conflict that a sharp class distinction would raise with both tempered by two headstrong spirits working to push through. The series is very well done and highly recommended. Fun and thoughtful.

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