Airman by Eoin Colfer tells the story of Conor Broekhart, a young man living in the fictional mini-nation of the Saltee Islands. (The Saltee Islands are a real place, but they are unihabited and everything about the Saltees in the book is fictional.) All his life, Conor has been best friends with the Saltee princess, Isabella, and he has been tutored by a Frenchman obsessed with things such as fencing, karate, and above all aeronautics. Conor is perfectly okay with this, because he was born in a balloon basket and flying is apparently his destiny. Hm...
Okay. I like Colfer. At least, I remember liking Colfer; I read the Artemis Fowl books when I was younger and enjoyed them quite a bit, though I believe a few more have come out since then. Those have a very different feel to them than Airman, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Airman is...well, I guess it's kind of historical fiction, but it's also kind of steampunk. All of the apparatuses Colfer includes are real, or closely based on real machines/inventions, but the setting of the Saltees, the prison, the diamond mind, etc. definitely gives a steampunk flavor.
Story-wise, I enjoyed this but it did not shine. The plot revolves around Conor being thrown into prison for his supposed involvement in the death of King Nicholas, though really it's because he knows the truth behind the King's death and the Lord Marshall of the Islands, Bonvilain, wants to shut him up while maintaining control over Conor's family, who are very prominent in the Islands and could mess things up for him. So, at the age of fourteen, Conor ends up in prison, befriends an inmate or two, and begins plotting his escape--which only takes up about half the book, because of course after he's free he has to make things right in the Islands.
Conor himself was an excellent character, as was Linus Wynter, the blind musician who becomes Conor's close friend. Both seemed well-rounded with specific motives for everything they did, and Conor in particular changed in accordance with his experiences in prison. That was good; he didn't exhibit any naivete that I might have expected from the hero of a YA novel. The rest of the cast, though... Bonvilain was weak as a villain, really, because he wasn't any different from any other fictional villain. He had no original twists, nothing, though I think Colfer TRIED to spice him up by making him part of the Knights of the Holy Cross (Knights Templar). Isabella was supposed to be an excellent queen, but she kind of fell flat, literally needing to hold someone's hand in order to address her people or her employees. And then suddenly at the end she's threatening to slice someone in three with a samurai sword. Uhm, what? Where did that come from? And while we were meant to fell sympathy for Conor's parents, they really didn't get enough page time to build up their pain, and all we really saw was Conor's father magically recovering from his grief to aid Isabella. There were an excess of comically inept side characters, ranging from Otto, the inmate whose greatest pride is his hair; to Pikes, Bonvilain's essentially useless sidekick; to Uncle, a boy who won't take a bath. The side character with the most potential was probably Sultan, Bonvilain's poisons expert, but he was sadly underutilized and underdeveloped. I also didn't feel like Isabella and Conor's relationship was believable; it was just kind of stated that it was there, and then Conor came back a completely different person and Isabella didn't have anything to say about that?
And what HAPPENED to Otto and all those diamonds, anyway?!
Overall, enjoyable but lacking some characterization.
3 stars out of 5.