Airman by Eoin Colfer.
Hardback, 416 pages.
Conor Broekhart was born to fly. In fact, legend has it that he was born flying in a hot air balloon at the world”s fair.
In the 1890″s Conor and his family live on the sovereign Saltee Islands, off the Irish coast. Conor spends his days studying the science of flight with his tutor and exploring the castle with the king”s daughter, Princess Isabella.
But the boy”s idyllic life changes forever the day he discovers a conspiracy to overthrow the king. When Conor tries to expose the plot, he is branded a traitor and thrown into jail on the prison island of Little Saltee. There, he has to fight for his life as he and the other prisoners are forced to mine for diamonds in inhumane conditions.
There is only one way to escape Little Saltee, and that is to fly. So he passes the solitary months by scratching drawings of flying machines into the prison walls. The months turn into years, but eventually the day comes when Conor must find the courage to trust his revolutionary designs and take to the skies. ~dust jacket
Eoin Colfer has yet to disappoint. While I can easily say I like one book over another, I can never fault the originality in his stories, excellent character development, and his incredible wit. Airman was a great read. I inhaled it over the course of a day. And it almost edged out Half-Moon Investigations as my favorite; which really isn’t all that fair to say. Colfer is versatile. Half-Moon reads like a hard-boiled detective story. The Supernaturalist is a Future set, x-men-ish foray. His Artemis Fowl is like a mafia drama set in Fantasy. Colfer provides a Historical context for Airman.
The technological race to fly is on. A fixed-wing plane with engine propulsion is in the offing, and Conor and his tutor are determined to get there first. Victor Vigny teaches Conor about aeronautics along with lessons various fighting techniques. The story is easy in its relating that Conor is a genius (his mother is a brilliant Scientist), he’s preternaturally given to flight, and he is a brave and determined problem-solver. He’s also pretty charming.
And then things take a turn for the worse.
Airman becomes reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo thrusting Conor into an inescapable prison after suffering a wrenching betrayal. And he is forced to take on another identity. The prison Colfer portrays is quite terrible and puts Airman squarely on the YA shelf. It is also the musings on survival, and what one is willing to do, or has to do–physically and emotionally.
Colfer seems to deal in the gray areas. What do you do when circumstances are not so black and white? In Airman he provides us with the black (Bonvilain) and the white (Nicholas). The rest are trudging through the shades of gray. What would you do if you lost your son to tragic circumstance? Would you remain valiant and fair? What if your best friend and first love was a part of the plot to kill your beloved father? What if you were thrown in a prison that was kill or be killed?…And what wouldn’t you forgive?
And what wouldn’t change? Conor is given a new last name, effectively cutting the connection to his family. He comes to wear a mask (for flight) and wings and the name Airman. Do those things change who he really is? For Conor, flight is the constant. But there is also a constancy to his character regardless of circumstance. This does not mean he remains unchanged, or that he doesn’t struggle with who he is or what he is doing, or should do. It means that before all of the names, he was this one individual; and since then, he proves to be an individual that can adapt and become more and greater in all the ways he’s ever been; which requires risk.
Conor’s risks create wonderfully suspenseful moments. And their actions sequences are superb. Even the political schemes are seated in movement–Colfer is good at keeping a story moving.
Conor has ingenuity in spades. He has disposable income and a fantastic lair. Ah, yes. Airman has an element of the superhero. I can’t decide on Batman or the Rocketeer, but fortunately for Readers like me, it doesn’t come off as too much.
The conversation on Progress versus remaining in the Middle Ages is great. It is fun to see the incorporation of modern invention (the toilets), and its progression. The progression in the advances in flight are fascinating–and a preoccupation, naturally. But it isn’t just about keeping up. There is an attitude attached to those who would embrace technologies and those who wouldn’t. Technological reform is attached to social reform. That Bonvilain would keep people in the middle ages and is head of a dying order called the Holy Cross Knights, I’ll leave the conclusions to you.
The characters are wonderfully portrayed, at times silly. Colfer’s comedic timing is brilliant as ever. I read his books for his wit–its lovely.There is a strong sense of family and themes of friendship and loyalty…Conor doesn’t go it alone. Among others, he has his Alfred (Linus).
Airman is a great book for older boys, and older girls; those with the mechanical bent, likes the science and engineering of the late 1800’s, early 1900s; readers of superheroes, of historical fiction, of action-adventure, even of romance. I don’t know who wouldn’t care for it…maybe midwives would have to skim Conor’s birth sequence in order to maintain belief.
There is an edge of the fantastical, I think it only serves compliment to a fantastical time in dreaming and inventing, and in creating Legends…like the Airman.
If you haven’t read an Eoin Colfer novel, you should. You are bound to find one with a premise or setting that would interest you. You won’t be disappointed. Colfer is a great storyteller.