Jailbreaks and Flying Things
Everything for a perfect adventure.
Book Review No. 11: Airman by Eoin Colfer
Genre: Children’s Historical Fiction/Alternative History/Suspense
Content for the Sensitive Reader: Two cold-blood murders depicted in some detail, high action, violence and mild language scattered throughout typical for prison-break stories. Younger readers cautioned.
Completion Date: January 9, 2020
BookmarkedOne Rating: 8/10
I wasn’t entirely certain what I was getting myself into with this one. I picked it up at the last Epic Library sale, assumed it was going to be a high-stakes prison escape novel toned down for a younger audience with aircraft thrown in, maybe with a dash of steampunk or sci-fi, and took it home. I’ve never read Eoin Colfer’s books, bestselling or not. And frankly, the U.S. edition of the cover doesn’t leave a great impression.
I wasn’t really expecting that much.
What I got was a high-stakes escapist novel toned down for a younger audience with highly technical descriptions of the aircraft thrown in, a boy with a yearning to fly, no immunity of the protagonist to the brutality of his situation, a fully satisfactory prison break, and a few well-written characters to make the trip worth taking. And fencing. Every good adventure book needs a dash of fencing.
It didn’t start out that way.
It started out slow. Not unbearably slow; we had a charming Frenchman (sacrifice an albatross, Victor? Really?), peril of death early on–but introduction of characters, characters growing up, and describing Saltee Islands can only maintain interest for so long if you’re waiting for the high stakes to come into play. Eighty pages, in fact.
It’s worth it. The tone of the novel completely changes after that.
Most of us have dreamed of flying. Soaring through the sky on wings of our own. Seeing the world from far away, safe in the clouds and always in peril of falling. It’s the same dream at the heart of Airman, that lives inside Conor Broekhart through all his adventures, good and bad.
The story itself follows Conor, aviation enthusiast and friend to King Nicholas of the Saltee Islands, from his birth to his education (including fencing, please note) with Victor Vigny, to his sudden incarceration for involvement in a plot of murder. And, naturally, his escape.
I am not a particularly sensitive reader these days. I am a writer. Deadly practical and perfectly willing to read about characters in miserable situations. Depressing plots spiced with violence are not a problem.
That put aside, I wasn’t quite prepared for the entry of the main plot.
WARNING: Eoin Colfer freely kills characters, makes you think he has killed characters, and makes you almost wish he had killed other characters. This is not a book for getting attached.
I got attached. Was not prepared for the cold-blood murder. Little Me would probably have gone through a few days of distant consideration after favorite characters unexpectedly disappeared later. Mostly because it defied the safety bubble that surrounds all juvenile fiction protagonists. I literally read the death scene expecting someone to pop up and say “I’m fine!” after being shot because that’s what happens so ridiculously often.
This is not one of those magical villain or hero cannot ever die/let’s not expose children to brutality books.
There’s brutality. Lots of it.
And that’s actually part of the book’s charm. Strange, I know. But Colfer’s willingness to kill characters, give his protagonist rope burn, black eyes, scorched skin and hair, broken limbs, etc. and send him straight to prison–it gives the book a good deal more reality. Conor himself goes through a dramatic character arc (secretly loved watching the effect the prison had on him. Very believable). The fact that his plans start to unravel, well, when does anything in real life go exactly to plan?
Don’t misunderstand, Colfer doesn’t go around blindly spreading violence just for the sake of the excitement. Every fight, every almost death that occurs (five or six, last count?), there’s always an inner war with Conor, wondering if this really is the right thing. Really, the light he’s cast everything in is more contemplative than approving. Murderous heroes are questioned as heroes. Murderous villains are doubtless villains.
The villains are interesting on their own, though. And personally, I struggle writing a good villain. Colfer creates a shudder and nightmare worthy man–
–who also enjoys whistling a Strauss waltz while engaging in devious plotting. Musician or not, you have to appreciate that.
And speaking of musicians, I do have to mention my favorite side character, the delightful Linus Wynter.
I am not a smidgen guilty that he’s my favorite because he’s the musician. Wynter is well-written. Plays piano. Sings operatic arias. Plays violin. And composes epic, sweeping scores. I could have screamed in Conor’s ear for hours after he drew designs over Wynter’s music. But that’s a personal vendetta.
As for the rest of the book? The ending isn’t quite long enough for me (I am quite the Return of the King type), but it was conclusive enough. The technical aviation details that bogged me down in the first eighty pages became increasingly interesting as Conor’s life and freedom depended on them. There are several tender moments with characters in between all the tension and heist. And please don’t forget that Conor’s solution to everything is always building wings. That’s quite charming in itself.
Well, Airman doesn’t have the prose of Joel Ross’ Fog Diver. Nor the snarky characters of Nielsen’s The False Prince. But it has its own charm. A violent, brutal, tender, and at times, heart-soaring charm.
I’d thought it would be a book I picked up, read, an set aside. Oh, that thing. You know. It was okay. But now I think Airman is going to find its special place on my shelf, where I can see it and remember the little adventure it took me on.
I may be hunting down those Artemis Fowl books sometime.