Book Review: “Airman” by Eoin Colfer

Eoin Colfer was a huge part of my childhood. Or, to be more accurate, my middle school years. I blazed through his Artemis Fowl series and The Wish List, and then in high school, I discovered Airman.

I’m happy to say that this YA novel has held up over the years since I last read it.

This is a quick and easy read. The main part of the book covers about three eras of Conor Broekhart’s life (with time skips), first on his beginnings, then dealing with his time in a horrible prison on the island of Little Saltee after he is falsely accused of treason (i.e., killing the king of the Saltee Islands!), and then concluding with his time as the titular Airman. If that sounds a little confusing, don’t let it be: the plot is very easy to follow and there is nothing that will keep you from understanding what is going on.

What I did notice on this readthrough was how “perfect” Conor was. He’s the best scientist, the best swordsman, the best rifleman, etc., all at the age of fourteen in the beginning of the book. The boy can literally do no wrong in the eyes of anyone. He’s already won the affections of Princess Isabella, his childhood best friend, and it looks like they’re already planning their wedding (they’re fourteen, Colfer! FOURTEEN!). It’s a bit heavy-handed, but didn’t end up taking enough away for me to mark the book down.

The characters are all different, and there are some real emotions underneath the outer façades. The majority of this book focuses on Conor Broekhart, but occasionally it will take a break to flip to either Marshall Bonvilain (the main villain of the story) or to Conor’s parents Catherine and Declan. These moments are jarring, but none so much as when we flip to Declan’s perspective. We know he should be a broken man, but Colfer leans towards telling us rather than showing us what has happened over the past few years since the death of King Nicholas.

Conor does grow and change some throughout the book. He’s forced to grow up faster than any other fourteen year old, and at some points, it’s easy to forget that he is so young. Heck, rereading this at 23, I found myself thinking that I would be hard-pressed to find someone at my age who is as accomplished as Conor is by the end of the novel.

The book advances at a blistering pace. It looks long, clocking in at 412 pages, but it’s a lot faster read than you believe it is, despite the small print. I was easily able to read a hundred pages during a 20-minute break at work one day! (And yes, I am a fast reader in general, but that’s still ridiculous!)

All in all, I’m going to give this book 4/5 stars. There are some points in here that are weird, like they refer to Little Saltee being “over 100 leagues away” from Great Saltee with 1 nautical league = 3.45 miles, but later in the book the sharpshooters on Great Saltee shoot balloons that are tethered onto the Little Saltee walls “at the distance of almost a mile.” Little Saltee is not more than two miles from Great Saltee, so why the confusion about leagues? Also, Conor rarely seems to have anything truly go wrong for him (well, with the exception of the whole “arrested for treason” thing). It’s like he couldn’t fail if he tried. A lot of these things might seem like just nitpicky things, but over the course of the book they do add up to something bigger.

Please do yourself a favor and take a look at Airman if you have any interest in a YA book that ends WITHOUT you wanting to gouge your heart out. The ending is sweet, and it makes you yearn for a sequel. It might not be all that historically accurate, and it might not go into Irish history quite as much as I wanted it to, but it’s a book that shouldn’t be missed.

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Conor Broekhart was born to fly.

In the 1890s, Conor and his family live on the sovereign Saltee Islands, off the Irish coast. He 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 deadly conspiracy against the king. When Conor tries to intervene, he is branded a traitor and thrown into jail on the prison island of Little Saltee. There, he must 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. Conor passes the solitary months by scratching drawings of flying machines on 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.

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Are you a fan of Eoin Colfer? Have you read his Artemis Fowl series, or perhaps you have already read Airman? Let me know in the comments what I got right or what I got wrong.

And as always, keep reading.

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