While he’s most famous for his Artemis Fowl series, Colfer’s best work is, in my opinion, this swashbuckling standalone about revenge, love, and ingenuity.
Premise: think The Count of Monte Cristo, only instead of digging his way out of prison, our (teenaged) protagonist has to build a flying machine. Balloons, gliders, and heavier-than-air craft are all discussed in fascinating detail.
Setting: Ireland, early 1800s. Specifically the Saltee Islands.
Genre: Historical fiction, wouldn’t go so far as to call it steampunk because it seems rather grounded in our world. I don’t know if the islands ever actually had diamond mines and a regal throne, but they’ve been unoccupied for over a hundred years in real life.
Lesson: Ultimately a tale of endurance and diligence, even when everything you love has been taken from you and turned against you.
My favorite character: No contest, really: it’s Conor, the main character. But then, you do spend the most time with him, as a reader.
Why you should read it: I recommend it because it’s great fun, has a touching romantic element, and falls under the umbrella of my recently-defined genre of gritpunk, where a boy who’s forced to become a man engages in a revenge plot that leaves nothing half-done.