AIRMAN by Eoin Colfer
Eoin Colfer attained international recognition with his splendid series of novels about a twelve year old genius thief named Artemis Fowl. The sixth book is coming out later this year. Those books are full of fun and fantasy, with laughs coming as quickly as danger.
However, Colfer has outdone himself with his latest novel. Just released, Airman literally soars the heights of grand adventure. Although the book is listed in the children’s section, adults will be able to curl up with this one and remember a childhood filled with wronged heroes who have to fight their ways back from incredible losses to battle the evil villains.
The pacing and characters in this book are different from those in the Fowl books and Colfer’s other novels. Conor Broekhart is the kid and the hero I wanted to be when I was just discovering adventurous fiction (and part of me would still like to be even now). He’s strong, courageous, intelligent, and a trained swordsman. Everything a dashing hero needs to be.
Usually novels like this end up with the hero saving the princess and earning her undying love. Colfer starts out with Conor doing that. That left me wondering what was next.
Well, what was next took a page from Alexander Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo and blended it into the fabric of Conor’s story in a way that kept me hurriedly turning pages. Raised in the Saltee Islands, Greater and Lesser, Conor was the son of King Nicholas’s most trusted captain, Declan Broekhart.
The islands are fictitious, but Colfer builds them with splendid fascination. Originally an insult, the islands were granted to the original king and granted their independence. The one of the world’s largest diamond mines were discovered there. Overnight, the Saltee Islands became a world player.
The time is the late 19th century and airplanes haven’t been invented yet, though they’ve been dreamed about. Conor and his mentor, Victor, spend their days together designing airplanes, hoping to build the one that will actually fly.
I loved Conor’s relationship with his parents as well as his mentor. It made me remember so many other good books of derring-do I’d read as a kid. Victor trains Conor as a swordsman, martial artist, and scientist, and Conor naturally excels at all those things – exactly as a hero cut from this cloth is supposed to do.
But when the villainous Marshall Bonvilain kills the king and Conor’s mentor, Conor witnesses everything. Unable to kill Conor because it would give his plot away, the Marshall develops an insidious plan for getting rid of him.
The twists and turns of the Marshall’s plot don’t get revealed for some time, but I couldn’t believe how things turned out for Conor. Not only was he consigned to the diamond mines, where most men died while digging, but no one – not even his family or the princess who loved him – tried to help him.
I hung on every adventure Conor had while in prison. His struggles against Malarkey, the man the Marshall had hired to thrash him every day for weeks, as well as the Battering Rams, the gang that ran the prisoners, all had me flipping pages in an effort to find some hope for him.
The writing is great and feels like a narrative, to a degree, from those classic novels of adventure. There’s just enough worldly scope and bouncing around the various characters to reveal everything else that’s going on to make everything feel more real and interesting.
The details of the flying machines Colfer talks about and designs are magnificent, based in fact but extrapolated to push the story into the fantastic. I loved Conor’s hideout. The wind tunnel felt like some kind of Batcave and I got to ride along as he ventured forth.
The way he was stymied from simply returning to his family was extremely well done and logical to boot. No matter which course Conor tried to take, fate and Bonvilain wouldn’t let him escape. I haven’t read a novel where a kids’ hero was so severely trounced in a long time. Usually kids have problems in these books, but the odds against Conor’s happiness just kept stacking up against them.
Although this book is slightly over 400 pages, it’s the perfect took to read aloud to kids. Or to give to reluctant readers, especially boys. Colfer has delivered a story that reaches back to entertainment and heroes that have been around hundreds of years, and he’s made it all new again.
Hopefully the Airman will soar again. I’d love to see Conor up against another worthy foe and have to struggle to overcome insurmountable odds – again!