Conor Broekhart was made for the air. Born in the middle of a hot air balloon crash, he has ever since sought to reenter the atmosphere. As the student of a French aeronautics expert, not to mention a family friend of the king of the scientifically-curious Saltee Islands, he’s in a perfect position to make his dream of inventing a powered flying machine come true—until he’s framed for a murder that rocks the Saltees to their core. Imprisoned in the unforgiving dungeons beneath Little Saltee, Conor must now face despicable prison guards, manipulate dangerous gang members, and keep himself alive, all the while trying to escape. For he holds a secret that could change the fate of the Saltee Islands, and a certain murderous marshal doesn’t want it to be heard…
Eoin Colfer’s Airman is a fun, adventuresome romp through 1800s Ireland and the air beyond.
While the novel can appeal to readers of historical fiction, it is better read as an adventure scientist tale a la Indiana Jones. Attentive readers can learn a lot about the science and early history of powered flight from the story,but Airman is most interested in taking its readers on a daring journey from the depths of inhumane dungeons, into the atmosphere itself, and everywhere in between. It’s the kind of story in which the best scientists know how to swordfight, plans are secretly recorded on dungeon walls in bioluminescent moss, and gangs of spunky, witty street urchins are effortlessly assembled to aid the heroes. Which is to say, the stuff of Hollywood movies rather than history class. Still, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The novel succeeds at many other elements of the adventure scientist subgenre, with energetic action scenes and a memorable cast of colorful, properly exaggerated characters, even if some of the characterizations are obvious. (One character is named Bonvilain. Guess whose side he’s on.)
The only thing that I truly disliked about the story was its approach to the history of its setting. In Airman, the Saltee Islands are an itty bitty group of islands off the Irish Coast that became a sovereign nation because a king, in a supreme act of royal sass, decided to put a complaining subject in his place by forcing him to rule over the useless plot of land. This promptly came back to bite said king, for massive amounts of diamonds were then discovered in the Saltees, and since the new king was awesome, he used this newfound wealth to create a utopia, where poverty was minimal, people lived happily and scientific innovations were always welcomed and encouraged. In reality, the Saltee Islands are one big HA HA NOPE. A quick visit to the islands’ website, http://www.salteeislands.info/, reveals that the only interesting things that the Saltees ever did were be a bird sanctuary, have some pirates, and trick ships into thinking they’d be fun to ram into. Which are all neat in their own ways, but not Benevolent-Ruler-Diamond-Mining-Utopia neat. But then again, this does fit Airman cleanly into the same genre of fiction where biblical artifacts can melt faces off Nazis, so historical accuracy isn’t really a requirement.
Overall, Airman is an entertaining read, especially for readers who are looking for a fun bit of historical escapism. Fans of historical fiction and adventure will definitely find something to like in it. For similar reasons, steampunk fans may also want to give it a try. (Even though it isn’t steampunk, its historical period and energetic approach to science echo elements of the best steampunk titles.)