Airman by Eoin Colfer

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Airman by Eoin Colfer

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A young aviation pioneer gets caught up in wicked schemes that involve the taking over of an entire island state. His adventure has great scope, and fine moral problems, but lacks a little spark in the telling.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: January 2008
Publisher: Puffin Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0141383354

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Even since Conor Broekhart was born he has had his head in the clouds. Not content with starting life in a tethered hot air balloon that was being shot at, he grows up wanting so much to be the first man to take to the skies under powered flight. He has quite an idyllic youth, but not one without drama and tension. He lives with his lovely, loving parents, on Great Saltee, a tiny island state off the coast of Ireland, famed for its magnanimous government and hugely wealthy diamond mines. Not only that, he is getting the best education - in fairness, swordplay and the basics of aviation, and spending his spare time running round getting into japes and scrapes with the lovely princess of the island, Isabella.

However that pleasantness cannot last. For just out of the public eye, there is the joyfully unsubtly named Marshall Bonvilain. His schemes involve killing the king in a wicked piece of skulduggery, and making the realm his own, with Isabella as just a puppet monarch, bent to his will. The complex plan goes ahead, and far from Conor taking to the air, he ends up at quite an opposite location. One with surely no hope for escape, and certainly one leaving him with no scope for revenge.

Conor's adventure is a very pleasant one to read about, and while not featuring a completely rip-snorting range of adventures it has a lot of detailed drama to it. I just wonder if the book could not have been a little more appealing. To the target audience, which I would have as the ten-and-up, while the dreams of solo gliding and powered flight might well make a lot of sense, the hero that is our embodiment of those dreams starts off aged twelve, and is soon a fair bit older. Will we completely be able to empathise with his maturity?

Also the moral swings and roundabouts - while I enjoyed them, for they were very interesting ones very well told, that added to and brought out Conor's complex character, they were on the whole taking the place of Eoin Colfer's usual fine spread of dramatic twists and turns. So is this book destined for an older audience? Well, I didn't feel it fell right into any particular bracket squarely enough.

The historical setting, of the 1890s, is well conveyed, and the progress of the villains and our scheming, hard-done-by hero are well in keeping with the mood given in the book. However I also felt this might have scuppered Colfer in allowing his usually brilliantly wicked invention to take full flight, as it were. The settings are limited, and on the drab side - gone is the colour of his Artemis Fowl world.

So, you're now perhaps wondering while I'm bothering giving this book four stars. That is because you are forgetting this is still Colfer I'm writing about, and I really do think anything written by him will provide very interesting entertainment. The writing here is still sparkly with humour, surprise and ups and downs (no, that's not another of my flying puns). I was able at least to enjoy the moral workout Conor has to live through, and the plotting is still done at a reasonably fine lick, despite all the internal debate.

I will always remember this book, however, for the fact that circumstances meant I read it over five days, and not once did I completely regret that fact - which I would never have thought possible for one by Colfer. The book is still well written, and very interesting, but just not enough for me. If you dislike having to make suspensions of belief, and accepting the baddy really is a bit on the lacking-in-foresight side, you would mark the book down further.

Four stars will seem stingy to some, but remember, this to many will be only a diverting stop-gap before the next Artemis Fowl (due in the summer holidays, thankfully). It was clever, well written and adventuresome, but not adventurous enough for Colfer, for my liking. It is still recommended, but not as strongly as I would have thought.

I would still like to thank Puffin for sending a copy for the Bookbag to sample.

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