Airman is a story about Conor Broekhart, a boy born in the basket of a hot air balloon that was floating over Paris. He and his family live on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland. After such an unusual entry into the world, Conor has an interest in flying. He learns about the science of flight from a beloved tutor. He also enjoys spending time with his childhood friend Princess Isabella, the daughter of the king.
Conor's life radically changes after he witnesses the murder of the king, Nicholas. He is caught in a feud between the Trudeaus and the Bonvilains. Conor is accused of Nicholas’s murder and Marshall Hugo Bonvilain throws him into jail on Little Saltee, a prison island. In the 1800s the island was used as a prison and referred to as “Hell.”
When Conor arrives, he meets Biltoe who has been assigned as a guard to Conor. Biltoe beats Conor and throws him into a pool of flesh-eating mites, which scrape his skin with their teeth and represent the ultimate torture. However, Conor is fortunate because the plant spores that stir with the mites serve to clean Conor’s wounds.
Conor must find a way to escape prison. His fascination with flying is his inspiration and salvation. He resolves to develop a flying machine; however, he is under the careful watch of the guards and their special brand of torment. Over many years, Conor earns the respect of the other prisoners and they plot with him for an escape. He spends most of his time designing flying machines.
Conor’s escape is complicated by his close relationships. He would like to let his father know he is still alive and he seeks to see Isabella, a childhood friend. This is the motivation for an escape. However, he would like to save the kingdom from Bonvilain—and as such he cannot simply fly away and leave forever.
Reviewers welcome the release of this latest novel as it packs plenty of adventure into its pages. The pacing and characters are different from those in the Fowl books and Colfer’s other novels, which makes this a terrific action-oriented work for adults as well as children.