Airman- Eoin Colfer

Conor Broekhart was born to fly, or more accurately, he was born flying. Though Broekhart's legend is littered with fantastical stories, the tale of his first flight in the summer of 1878 would be the most difficult to believe, had there not been thousands of witnesses.
- Prologue, Airman.

Airman is the story of Conor Broekhart, a young man born on the Saltee Islands near Ireland in a time of great discovery. From his dramatic birth on a hot-air balloon called Le Soleil, Conor is obsessed with flight, and the innovation of the late 19th century could just make his dream a reality. As he gets older, Conor is taught under a great swordsman and scientist, Victor Vigny, and begins to realise his dreams of building a device or machine capable of flight. However, his idyllic life is shattered by the assassination of Great Saltee's monarch, Nicholas, and he is caught in the crossfire of an age-old feud between two families- the Trudeaus and the Bonvilains. Conor is framed for Nicholas' murder and sent to the prison on the neighboring island of Little Saltee by Marshall Bonvilain, who assumes power over Great Saltee. Soldiering through his incarceration, Conor awaits the day he will fly away from Little Saltee, clear his name and ultimately have his revenge.

The book is penned by Eoin Colfer, the celebrated author who writes the Artemis Fowl series. He was inspired by the idea that the smaller of the Saltee Islands, (which do indeed exist, even if this book gives a more fantastical view of their history) would be a perfect prison, and by a frightening sky-diving experience. The two combined puts Conor in prison on Little Saltee and it's around this point that the story seems remarkably like a children's equivalent of Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo. Such a comparison is by no means a bad thing, because the story is quirky and original enough to avoid being cast as a rip-off of the literary classic, and it's infused with Colfer's compelling prose and versatile characters. Getting away from the revenge element of the story, Conor mostly longs to be free. At a point early in his incarceration, Conor is persuaded to accept what has been done to him by his very own Abbé Faria in the form of his cellmate, an old blind musician called Linus Wynter. It's from here that Conor really becomes a character you root for, and who you care about. If before you felt bad that his childhood had been so cruelly snatched away by Bonvilain, you now root for him in his dreams of a second chance at life and plans to escape Little Saltee by means of his flying machine.

Colfer's prose is as nuanced as ever, and filled with the same gleeful humour that characterises the Artemis Fowl books. Marshal Bonvilain's evil is, as with Colfer's other villain characters, simply for the sake of being mean, and you just have to laugh at some parts of his own demented inner monologue. By the same token, Conor is just as flawed a hero as other protagonists of Colfer's works- without the criminal inclinations of Artemis or Meg from The Wish List, Conor is still willing to consort with and occasionally abet criminals in order to achieve his goal of escaping. Conor is not some great big hero by nature, and although he has all the skill and physical prowess to rectify the depreciating situation on Great Saltee, his past isn't necessarily something he wants to regain after a few years in prison. It's this manner of characterisation that persuades me Colfer will get along just fine writing about one Arthur Dent in And Another Thing...- his sequel to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy "trilogy"- which is released later this year.

To conclude, Airman is a terrific action-adventure novel with a fine balance between the historical liberties taken, (the Saltees didn't necessarily have a royal family) and the realism of human nature to entertain both children and adults. I'd recommend it particularly to other fans of Colfer's work- while it's not his best, it's certainly something you'll enjoy. You will believe a boy can fly.

Next time: The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made by David Hughes
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