Author: Eoin Colfer

Publication: Hyperion Books for Children, 2008

Pages: 416

Overall Rating:  bth_45_zps06f87659[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 9 – 12

Brief Summary: Conor Broekhart is a swordsman and inventor.  He grows up on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland in the late 1800’s and studies aviation and combat under a French balloonist.  At the age of 14, Conor stumbles across a plot by Hugo Bonvilain, the Marshall of the Saltee armed forces, to kill the King and take over the throne.  He is discovered and sent to the prison island of Little Saltee, where he must fight for his very life while crafting a plan to escape, get his revenge on Bonvilain, and rescue the king’s daughter.

Age of Main Character: 14

What I Liked the Most: The novel brims over with tension.  I loved the palpable fear that runs through Conor when he’s first thrown into prison.  After he escapes, his initial plan is to leave for America, abandoning his family and country, and I really loved the emotions he has to battle through before changing his mind and deciding to attack Bonvilain.  Finally, I loved the action sequences, which are just so well done.

What I Liked the Least: Sometimes it felt like Conor was too powerful.  He was too accomplished a swordsman and fighter, able to take on much bigger and older opponents.  The action sequences were always good, but a few of them lost that edge of tension because I wasn’t worried for Conor.  He was so skilled that I knew he wouldn’t lose.

How Good was the Action? Excellent.  It isn’t nonstop.  There are many periods where Conor is devising plans, building his flying machine, or talking with fellow prisoners.  But there are also plenty of action sequences and they’re all well written.  There’s a particularly good scene where Conor is trapped in a small diving bell with a massive prison enforcer named Malarky.  Malarky has come to give Conor a beating, and Conor has to fight him off, using a short mining tool as a sword to knock Malarky senseless.  The scene is full of tension and fear, and the fight is described in amazing detail.

How Engaging was the Story? Very.  Conor is a powerful character and Colfer is done a wonderful job of getting us inside his mind.  His terror when he’s first thrown into prison is so real it almost feels like you’re in the cell with him.  He is driven by a desire for revenge, but hobbled by the belief that his own father abandoned him and that the princess he loves has condemned him to life in a prison camp.  His struggle to escape and to build a flying machine that he can use to exact his revenge on Bonvilain, and his own internal war over whether to flee the Saltees or rescue those he loves from Bonvilain’s grasp drives the story forward with incredible force.

Overall Assessment: This is an excellent read, full of swashbuckling action with just the right touch of fear and tension.  I loved Conor’s inventions, and there are some great moments when he’s flying his winged creation across the ocean.  But be aware that there are significant portions of the novel devoted to Conor’s plans and to his own internal battle over what to do.  If you’re looking for nonstop action this may not be the right book for you, but if you like complicated tales with powerful characters and a healthy dose of action, then be sure to pick it up.  You’ll be happy you did.

Profanity: None

Sex: None

Violence: There are numerous fights and battles done in great detail, a couple of people do die, and there is a brief scene in which an adult friend of Conor’s is tortured.  But it’s not a gory novel.  In almost every case where Conor fights he fights to wound, not to kill, and overall the violence is more swashbuckling fun than gritty intensity


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