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Friday, 5 December 2014
Buy or Borrow: Buy
Source: Copy courtesy of the publisher
Lieutenant William Fraser, of the Royal Flying Corps, has had one hell of a journey. Starting in Germany pre-war, he ends up hanging out with an American reporter, fleeing, and joining the Belgians and fighting with his new best friend Claude, he meets and becomes close to the King and Queen of Belgium, after a particularly bad attack by the Germans, and losing Claude, Willy ends up four thousand feet above the Western Front....in a balloon. Going under the name of his dead friend, he's on a mission to reach Claude's wife to give him his last letter to her. Willy is now a balloon observer, hanging under a gasbag full of extremely explosive hydrogen, which is anchored thousands of feet above the Ypres Salient. Trailed by said American journalist, who's determined to find out his whole story, Willy is settling into a role where he gets to help direct batteries. That is, until his line is accidentally hit, and cut, and he drifts across enemy lines to crash on a Belgian farm. He's nursed by them and sheltered, and it turns out the farmers daughter is the woman he's been looking for, they help him, and a German deserter to escape across the flooded delta, where he has a close call with a firing squad, but eventually ends up back to his duties. It's there, back up in the air, that he will have to make a horrendously difficult decision, one that could threaten the life of the woman he has come to love.
Well, this book has a totally unique angle on the war! The Balloonist is so incredibly well researched and utterly fascinating. I couldn't stop reading, I wanted to know more about this side of the war I haven't seen, I was so caught up in the world, and the characters and what was happening I honestly couldn't put the book down! It was incredibly different to what I was expecting, I mean, I don't know why, but I was expecting this to be aaaalll about the romance with a smidge of history but I was totally wrong.
Obviously the book has a lot of action, so there's always something going on, something grabbing your attention and sucking you in, I learned so much from this book as well as being thoroughly fascinated and entertained. I incredibly shamefully had never heard or known about the Balloonists before I read this book, and they really should be talked about more! They where so incredibly important, and so good at their job, and incredibly daring, you know, they take such huge risks, it was an incredibly dangerous job, but they did it anyway and must have had so much courage and bravery to do it, you wouldn't catch me in one of those in any circumstance, let alone when I'm being shot at while a war rages on! Utterly fascinating how they did it, and how it all worked. anyway this goes from pre-war through to the midst of war, and there's tonnes of different scenarios and historic events before the ballooning starts, I don't want to give too much away, so that's all I'll say!
This is quite an emotional read, I mean obviously it would be, but like I found myself rolling on emotional waves between happy, even chuckling at a few moments, and then being so profoundly sad from what I'd read, and thinking about the situation more. It's a true rollercoaster of a book, you go from dangerous situation, to even more dangerous situation. You can feel the danger and tension oozing off the page.
I enjoyed the Churchill cameo, I think it painted him as not quite the hero everyone thinks he is, if that really did he happen and he caused that to happen, granted it was before the war, but everyone paints him as a hero and never really mentions his life before, or if they have, I haven't read about it! The focus was very much on the Belgians for the majority of the book, the British where kind of douches to Willy, except for the Balloonist group! What fascinated me, is that we get a real look at the Belgians and what they where doing to try and stop from being invaded, and their tactics, for a nice chunk of the book, I've only really read about the British point of view. I actually quite liked the King and Queen of Belgium!
The Balloonist has kind of an awesome ending, it really left you wondering about the romance, if they ever eventually ended up together, probably quite like wives and girlfriends where left wondering about their own romances, it was quite a nice touch! I loved making up a little ending of my own! You want to know what happens next, want to know what daring feat Willy attempts next, but you also have fun making up your own ending. Although if there is a sequel, I won't be complaining!
The Balloonist was incredibly vivid, the world well and truly comes to life around you and sucks you in, not to mention how atmospheric the book is, you can feel every emotion oozing off the page, feel the danger, the uncertainty, the heartbreak, the horror and so on. The Balloonist captivates you and your attention isn't allowed to wander, the book keeps all your focus on the story. The Balloonist is realistic and believable, obviously it's historical and based on real events, but sometimes authors take liberties and things get stretched, not the case in this, everything was organic and natural and well...real.
The characters where all so colourful, I loved all of them! Willy was such a badass, I mean, he was determined to fight and help no matter what other people did to him, kicking him down the ranks, making him change his name and so on, he did the most daring things, and he was such a deep character, so well written and kind of larger than life to me. Claude. Why, whyyyy! I loved him, I really did, he was so funny, with the trumpeting and the scene at the fortress, I can't even. I loved him, he was the most colourful character there, and I loved his friendship with Willy and I was so gutted. You could really see the bond of comrades develop and what it meant to each.
Otto was another of my favourite characters, he was also a total eyeopener as well, because he was a half British, German soldier, who deserted from the German army because he never actually wanted to fight for the Germans, and it was eye opening because there probably where soldiers like Otto, fighting when they didn't want to, or fighting for what they felt was the wrong side. It was also eye opening to see what Otto was told, he and the other soldiers where basically fed lies and told they where going to one place to do one thing and ending up in Belgium.
The romance should be mentioned, the lovely lady was kind of awesome. I liked her. The romance developed very naturally and subtly, and was very organic and realistic. I enjoyed how the romance was subtle, and a note underneath everything else going on. I had originally thought this was going to be all about the romance, and I was reading, and so captivated and astounded by this book and the events, and it kept going and there was no woman, and then when it eventually rolled around I was like "omg it's going to take over now" but it didn't. It was there, but it wasn't in your face, you'd quite possibly have to squint to see it! The book's synopsis leads you to believe it's all about this Balloonists and the other Balloonists and this romance across a war kind of thing, that's why I wrote my own synopsis with what I feel is a better representation of the book because so much happens!
The Balloonist is most definitely a must read, it's truly astounding. So well written, with a fantastic, engaging plot that keeps you guessing, and shows all of the pitfalls of war, as well as the heroes fighting to win. It's a truly incredible read, and everything is so believable and well researched, and well written, and the characters jump off the page and the setting is vivid, and atmospheric and sucks you in, and you want to know so much more than the incredibly amount you learn! I mean, I want to know even more about the Balloonists!
Aaaaaaaaaaand that's enough rambling from me! But seriously, YOU HAVE TO READ THIS! Whether you like historical or not, or just have a passing interest in history or the war, these guys deserve some recognition to be honest!