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Airman    by Eoin Colfer order for
by Eoin Colfer
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Mix together a passion for aeronautics, a touch of alternate history, a vicious villain, and a reinvention of The Count of Monte Cristo - along with the brilliant imaginative talent of Eoin Colfer - and you get his wonderful new story, Airman.

Conor Broekhart is born (prematurely) in an experimental hot air balloon as it makes a crash landing after being fired upon from the ground - what a start to both the story and his life! His mother Catherine is a dedicated scientist and his father Declan is Captain of the Saltee Island Sharpshooters. Though the Saltee Islands (off the south coast of Wexford, Ireland) are real, Colfer makes them into a sovereign state for the purposes of his story, ruled by Good King Nicholas. The islands' economy is fueled by its diamond mines, worked by 'the foulest dregs of murdering humanity that Ireland and Great Britain had to offer.'

Conor enjoys an idyllic childhood in the Saltees, his constant companion - and fellow troublemaker - little princess Isabella, only one year his senior. At age nine, Conor applies his intelligence, ingenuity and affinity for flight to save himself and Isabella from an exploding tower. Afterwards, famous French aviator Victor Vigny, who witnessed the event, tutors him in aeronautics and martial arts, and enlists him in scientific experimentation on flying machines - they share a passion for manned flight.

Everything changes after Conor turns fourteen, on the best and worst day of his life. Elated to learn his love for Isabella is reciprocated, he spies Marshall Bonvilain prowling the passages with Victor's gun. Following the mad marshall, Conor's unable to prevent tragedy, after which he's imprisoned by Bonvilain's henchmen. Convinced his father believes him guilty of the foul crime, our hero is shipped - as Conor Finn - to the diamond mines on Little Saltee. He only survives cruel conditions, brutal guards, and attacks of fellow inmates by listening to his blind cellmate, Linus Wynter, and applying everything that Victor Vigny taught him.

Just as Edmond Dantès does in The Count of Monte Cristo, young Conor escapes his prison (airborn in his case, through a storm of fireworks) and takes a treasure in diamonds with him. Believing that a return might endanger his family - and that he's 'deserted and despised' by them - he plans to emigrate to America. But circumstances conspire to once more push Conor into a heroic role - the valiant Airman must fly to the rescue of all he loves before the deadly villain does them in. Airman is amazing, not to be missed - with an ending that leaves open the possibility of more thrilling adventures for young Conor Broekhart.

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