Conor Broekhart has many problems to face, not least of which is the environment he finds himself unjustly placed in unjustly after being implicated in the murder of King Nicholas. Little Saltee is a prison island known by its residents as "Hell," which successfully conveys the torture and sadism that is practised upon the prisoners by the prison guards. Note the following description of the setting:
No, Little Saltee is not a place for mirth. No Maypoles nor circus antics. Especially not for Conor Finn...
Conor, however, is able to work hard at surviving Little Saltee, and not just surviving it, but also allowing his dreams of inventing a machine to fly in to flourish. It is his central drive to achieve escape from Little Saltee that causes him to gain the respect of the prisoners, as he needs their help if he is to be successful and invent a flying machine which he can use to escape. He achieves their respect through his involvement with the Battering Rams, a group of smugglers who are prisoners in Little Saltee that he begins to work with. He integrates himself with this group through his ability to deceive his prison guard, Arthur Billtoe, who maliciously tortures Conor at various points in the novel. It is his involvement with the Battering Rams and his manipulation of Billtoe that allows Conor to gain the respect of the prisoners, and through this achieve his dream of final escape through the invention and creation of a flying machine.