I have enjoyed all the Artemis Fowl books Colfer has written...these are filled with brilliant fairies, demons and fantastic machines of the future/otherworld. This book is a huge departure.
Here is a story of a doomed pair of islands of the coast of Ireland - Saltee Islands. Presiding over these rocky outcrops is Good King Nick - an American raised balloonist from the Civil War who happened to be the last remaining heir to the Saltee throne. The time is mid 1800s and the race to the sky is building.
That sounds a bit boring to me - I am not really a mechanical lover...but this story is more than just mechanics. Conor Broekhart is is a lovable, charming flying fanatic...actually pre-flying. It hasn't technically been invented yet. He is also the son of the head of the Wall guards and the best friend of Princess Isabella. Life is good on this island. Good King Nick is trying hard to right centuries of wrongs - bringing about improved living conditions, making things more equal and providing more humane conditions in the diamond mine/prison on Little Saltee.
There is however a cloud...Marshall Bonvilian - head of the royal guards. He is a power mongering, conniving, evil man who has been bred to overthrow the royalty so his family line will finally be the rulers of the Saltees.
Due to a horrible twist of fate, Conor is sent to prison, yes the diamond mine prison, at the age of 14 at the Marshall's hand. He must face the impossible task of staying alive that first day. He does so with the help of his cell mate Wynter. Displaying some of the wit and brilliance of Artemis Fowl, Conor is able to strike a deal with the prison hit man - Otto Malarky - one of the Battering Rams gang, and the next two years of his life are bearable.
But, he must figure out a way to escape, decide whether to try to reconcile with his family ( they believe him part of the plot that killed the king) or flee with stolen diamonds to America to build his dream airplane.
I really liked the story, although when I thought things were lost for Conor - I did stop reading for the evening. Sometimes it's just too hard to know things that the characters don't!