By James Long
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in paperbook and ebook
James Long's fascinating novel, The Balloonist tells the story of balloon observers and their role during World War I but this is not simply a historical novel but a book about loyalty, hope and love. This is a book about the things we must do to protect the ones we love the most.
I was always under the impression that WWI pilots had the most dangerous missions but it turns out the balloon observer is just as dangerous - not just from enemy bombs from planes or even snipers but from the hot air balloon itself, filled with explosive hydrogen, four thousand feet above the ground with only a cable to pull the observer back to the ground. Long does a great job of exploring this part of WWI and making the reader appreciate the efforts of these unsung heroes.
The Balloonist follows a troubled Lieutenant Willy Fraser, formerly of the Royal Flying Crops, who is in Europe for adventure, trying to escape his life and castle back in Scotland, but gets caught up in the outbreak of war with Germany advancing towards Belgium. Fraser must conquer the enemy and also his fellow comrades when he realises that he must protect the woman he loves, the wife of his former colleague, Claude. Up until this moment his motto has been to only think about himself. But having listened to Claude, before his death, talking about his amazing wife makes Fraser realise that there is something missing in his life. There is a life beyond simply looking after himself and he must get to that new life no matter the consequence.
High above the tops of trees, in a hot air balloon, Fraser must watch out for the advancing enemy and their attacking forces. During these times, he plots and maneuvers himself through the ranks and companies to end up just the other side of the field from where Claude's wife lives, on the edge of the Western Front.
Long has created a book with lots of intriguing, vivid details about an aspect of WWI which I didn't really know about before reading The Balloonist. This is a well researched novel, and makes me want to go away and read more about WWI and the balloon observers. The research adds to the fast pace action of the plot as Fraser dodges the enemy with his survivalist mentality - this is a character who will not give up. Fraser is a likable character who the reader wants to succeed in his quest to find Claude's wife and hand over a letter to her even if it means risking his life.
This is an enjoyable novel full of authentic deal which doesn't bog down the plot. The end reads like there could be a sequel in the making...
You can buy or order this book from your favourite bookshop.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy.