Avast ye scurvy dogs, there be no spoilers about so read on without fear.
I purchased Airman on 30 December 2007 at Foyle's in London for £2 off and then promptly misplaced it once I got back, never reading it. I found it a few days ago and thus commenced reading this book.
A reader of all his works (Artemis Fowl, Half Moon Investigations, and his stand-alone novels) I was thrilled. I was not quite as thrilled when I discovered this was his first historical novel, a genre that generally puts me off. But, I ploughed forward because Colfer is a great writer.
This is a story of Conor Broekhart and his quest to fly. It's set near the turn of the century — when the 1800s change to the 1900s — and has many historical references though mostly the facts are disregarded in favour of the story, which is a good thing.
Colfer just enthrals his reader as he does with all his books. He weaves a good yarn with his main characters deep and complex. His secondary characters, though, are not drawn well and are not so detailed. As with many of his other books, my big complaint is his use of Painfully Blunt Foreshadowing — something I abhor. "Conor escaped, but nothing could prepare him for the misery of his next three years." A sentence like that pretty much tells you everything you need to know and deadens the surprise. You know six months later a new character won't rescue him, you know he won't find happiness, and you know any glimmer of hope is a red herring. I do not know why any author uses a baseball bat to foreshadow when subtlety will work much better.
So those are the nits I wish to pick. You will love Conor and you will love (to hate) Bonvilain, as even his name is a bit of a pun. Colfer's truly dry wit shines in some paragraphs, though I think much of it will be lost on a Leftpondian (American) reader. The book is decidedly Irish/English in tone, but I cannot say if they clean the US versions as they do with the Potter books. That local flavour helps the book considerably.
This coming-of-age book is violent and is apparently geared towards older teens at minimum. This is not for the Artemis crowd. The language is a bit more complex, even sending me scurrying to the dictionary once. He leaves it open for a sequel, and I'd certainly read one if it were forthcoming, though I'd much rather he spit out another Half-Moon book first.
And, there was an insert for the new Artemis Fowl book, the Time Paradox due in August 2008 in the UK.