A cast of sparkling characters in a fast moving and dramatic plot that’s packed with nail-biting action: I’m confident The Boy Who Flew will fly off bookseller’s shelves.
Athan works for Mr Chen helping him build all types mechanisms from apple pickers and rat traps to lamps, pumps and an engine. Together they are using science to build a flying machine. Athan dreams of soaring through the sky but Mr Chen is more careful – he explains how, in the wrong hands, the flying machine could be used as a weapon. Athan agrees to keep it a secret, totally unaware of the lengths he will have to go to protect their flying machine. When Mr Chen is brutally murdered, Athan finds that hiding the flying machine means risking his life and putting everyone he cares about in danger.
Some books take a very long time to reach the public and The Boy Who Flew apparently took ten years to find a home. Indeed, author – Fleur Hitchcock – has had many wonderful books published since she wrote the first draft of this story. Luckily she didn’t abandon the idea as this book is most definitely worth the wait.
Fleur’s books usually use a contemporary and realistic setting. In contrast, in The Boy Who Flew we are transported back in time to a world loosely based on late eighteenth century Bath and the affect is truly magical. Fleur successfully avoids any long passages of description (or, if they are there, she hides them so effectively that I simply didn’t notice) and, instead, incorporates an array of clever details that allow us to see and smell the world.
Her characters are equally skilfully drawn and feel exactly right for the period. Athan narrates his story but it’s actually the other characters that sparkle most brightly. There are those who demonstrate their generosity and goodness in the face of adversity, including Athan’s best friend, Tod (who is forced to live with a father who beats him) and Athan’s sister, Beatty (who puts a brave face on her life as a cripple despite Grandma’s harsh words and insistence she is a fairy changeling). At the opposite end of the spectrum there’s the truly evil Colonel Blake who’s prepared to do whatever it takes in order to get hold of Mr Chen’s flying machine.
My favourite character, however, has to be Athan’s Ma, possibly because she makes the biggest transformation in the course of the story. From being initially hard on Athan and scolding him for ‘lying’ about Colonel Blake, she finally comes to realise her mistake. In a scene of sheer brilliance she turns on the Colonel with a poker in order to defend her children.
The plot is fast moving and dramatic with lots of nail-biting action. There’s also a fair bit of violence (at various points in the story Athan finds himself drugged with alcohol, tied and locked up as well as being shot at.) This violence leads to more than one bloody death but this is all described in a way that ensures the book remains suitable for a middle grade audience.
If you enjoyed this, I’d definitely recommend you try Fleur’s other books. I simply loved Murder in Midwinter: so much so that I have Murder at Twilight on my current ‘to read’ pile.
Publication date: March 2019
Publisher: Nosy Crow
Author’s website: Fleur Hitchcock