Airman by Eoin Colfer
It is the late 1800’s and Conor Broekhart dreams of flying. Fortunately he lives under King Nicholas of the Slatee Islands. Nicholas is fascinated by flying and new technology. He hopes that his nation can show the world how new sciences and the discovery of flight will make life better for all mankind. After Conor saves his friend and secret crush Isabella, who is also the King’s daughter, from a fire he is invited to study with King’s airman and friend, Victor Vigny. Victor becomes a teacher and mentor to young Conor; who learns not only science and aeronautics, but pugilism and sword fighting.
Years go by and Conor and Victor believe they have made a breakthrough in lighter than air craft. But before they get to test out their design, the King is assassinated and Victor is murdered. The dastardly perpetrator is Marshall Bonvilian, the King’s own protector and head of the military. Bonvilian frames Victor Vigny as the assassin. Yet Conor witnessed the whole event.
So, Bonvilian quickly kidnaps Conor and hides him in the underground prison on Little Saltee. There he lives his life as a miner of diamonds to support Bonvilian’s new regime. Even though he suffers years of imprisonment he never forgets what Victor has taught him and plans his escape. He must wait until Isabella turns 18 and ascends to the throne. During the celebration he plots to fly away on a hot air balloon used in the celebration for the new Queen. Once he is safe he plans to create a glider that will allow him to sneak back to the prison to gather diamonds he has hidden.
But if he escapes what does he do then? He would have money and freedom. But, he knows that Isabella is in danger because Bonvilian seeks the throne for himself. Then there is Conor’s family. How have the fared since his disappearance? But all Conor wants to do is move to America and discover the secret to manned flight. Will Conor turn his back on the girl he loves and his family? Or will he don his glider and become a hero?
Airman is an excellent steampunk adventure story. It is appropriate for all ages and highly recommended.