''Airborn'' is the first book in the trilogy of the same name, written by Canadian Kenneth Oppel. The plot centers around 15-year-old cabin boy Matt Cruse, who works aboard the [[ZeppelinsFromAnotherWorld airship]] ''Aurora'' in a SteamPunk AlternateHistory close to our world in TheEdwardianEra. One night on duty in the crow's nest, Matt spots and rescues a drifting hot-air balloon with one passenger: a mysterious old man mumbling about "beautiful creatures" who shortly after dies. One year later, the wealthy Kate de Vries and her chaperone board the ship, Kate determined to prove the old man (her grandfather) right. The ''Aurora'' is soon scuttled on a tropical island by air pirates, and Kate and Matt discover that the creatures do in fact exist. In the two later books, ''Skybreaker'' and ''Starclimber,'' they go on to explore other extreme environments and make important scientific discoveries.
As the series goes on, Matt and Kate strike up a romance, which has to be kept hidden as they belong to different social classes. Much drama and reflection is drawn from his bitterness over having to provide for his family and her naivete to what the life of the working-class is really like. There are many other real-world issues and concepts dwelled on, such as the space race, early feminism and suffragettes, and clean energy sources.
Other supporting characters include Marjorie Simpkins, Kate's fumbling chaperone; Vikram Spirzglas, notorious SkyPirate; Captain Walken, captain of the ''Aurora''; Nadira, the mysterious gypsy; and Hal Slater, Bruce Lunardi, and James Sanderson, all Matt's rivals for Kate's affections at one time or another.
In-universe, airships are a completely viable mode of transportation because of a fictional gas called "hydrium" which is even lighter than helium and makes it next-to-no-effort to stay aloft, in addition to [[ForWantOfANail fixed-wing aircraft having never become viable as means of transportation.]] Vancouver, known as "Lionsgate City," [[CreatorProvincialism is known as the airship capital of the world.]]
Many real-life people or places are alluded to, mostly through slightly changed names; "Amelia Gearhart", "Evelyn Karr," etc.
* TheAce: Bruce Lunardi and Hal Slater; both turn out to be not quite as sucessful as they appear.
* AlternateHistory: The fictional world's timeline seems to have diverged with ours in the late 1800's. so far as human history goes. The history of its natural world seems to have diverged far earlier.
* AppliedPhlebotinum: Hydrium gas. The narration notes that it's even lighter than hydrogen. And apparently can't be stored under very high pressure, more than in gas bag (which got the ship stranded in the first book).
* BadAss: Captain Walken can handle any problem, can calm angry passengers, and could easily stand up to pirates with only one gun. And compliment your hair at the same time.
* BigFancyHouse: Kate's "small flat"
* BigfootSasquatchAndYeti: A mounted yeti is one of the exhibits aboard the ''Hyperion''. The sherpas are aware of these creatures' existence, but the scientific community--minus Kate--considers them myth.
* CanadaEh: Averted; most of the cast is Canadian, but it's hardly ever mentioned and if it wasn't specified you'd just assume they were American.
* CoolShip: ''Aurora'', ''Skybreaker'', ''Starclimber''... pretty much all of them.
** The Starclimber's classification as a 'ship' is debatable...
* DisappearedDad: Matt's father died in an accident on the ''Aurora'', which is why Matt must work at 15 to support the mothers and sisters.
* TheEdwardianEra: Probably, although the exact time is quite vague and indetermined.
* EvenEvilHasLovedOnes: Vikram Spirzglas has a young son named Theodore, whom he tells amazing bed time stories.
* GorgeousPeriodDress: Kate's manage to be pretty ''and'' good for discovering unknown species in!
* HotScientist: Kate de Vries
* IstanbulNotConstantinople: Europe is Europa, England is Angleterre, Vancouver is Lionsgate City, the Atlantic and Pacific are the Atlanticus and the Pacificus, and there is a Republic of Colorado. However, most places (Canada, Paris, Victoria, and Australia to name the most prominent ones) are kept the same.
* KickTheDog: Szpirglas kills [[spoiler: Mr. Featherstone and Bruce]]
* LadyOfAdventure: Kate De Vries fits this reasonably well, although she's probably quite a bit younger than most.
* LukeIAmYourFather: Played with; [[spoiler: Nadira is revealed to be Vikram Spirzglas' daughter, but she's always known; Matt is the shocked one.]]
* MatronChaperone: Ms. Simpkins fits this to a tee; she's not very brave, tries to keep Kate from doing anything fun, and is especially suspicious when any young men are around.
* NoFameNoWealthNoService: The resturant Matt meets Kate at in ''Skybreaker''; he was about to be escorted out until Chef Vlad intervened.
* OppositesAttract: Matt and Kate
* RecurringExtra: The Lumiere triplets are mentioned in all three books and Matt sees them at a resturant in ''Skybreaker.''
* SacrificialLion: [[spoiler: Bruce]]
* ShownTheirWork: Yes, the gas cells in rigid airships really ''were'' made of cow intestine.
* TheSkyIsAnOcean: And how. If Matt stopped reminding us every ten seconds how much he loves the air you'd forget they're not on the sea altogether.
* SkyPirate: Vikram Spirzglas & co., John Rath & co.
* SpaceElevator: The ''Starclimber''. It's furnished as well as any hotel and rides on a cable of highly reinforced steel.
* TheSpaceRace: In the ''Airborn'' 'verse, [[spoiler: Canada]] reaches space first. With a space elevator, no less. Its chef rival was France, which planned on using a tower.
* SpaceWhale: Well, more like Space Whale/Firefly/Shark. A group of these creatures are found in near-Earth orbit at the end of the third book, having come to breed. It's speculated these are the small fish of the cosmos, and ''much'' bigger ones might be living in deep space, away from the planetary "shallows".
* SpiritedYoungLady: Kate. Lampshaded in that after she petitions the Zoological Society to investigate the existence of the creatures her grandfather saw, she's told to return to "young lady's pursuits," much to her disgust.
* SupremeChef: Chef Vlad
* WhamLine: ''"Not birds."''
* WhyCantIHateYou: Non-romantic - Bruce gets a position instead of Matt because of his wealthy father, but proves to be a friendly guy who knows what an awkward situation he's in. Matt finds this is actually more frustrating than if he'd been a spoiled brat.
* YouAreGrounded: Kate in chapter 13 of the first book as a result of Miss Simpkins's discovery of the bones. She escapes between the end of that chapter and the start of chapter 14.
* YouKilledMyFather: [[spoiler: Matt killed Nadira's father, Spirzglas, the BigBad of the previous book. She didn't seem that unhappy or angry about it, though...]]
* ZeppelinsFromAnotherWorld: The oh-so-ubiquitous airships are the first sign of the series being AlternateHistory.