Having previously read Fleur Hitchcock’s award winning Murder in Midwinter I had high expectations for another fast-paced thriller full of drama. I am pleased to say that she has delivered again. The Boy Who Flew is a cracking suspense-filled read full of mystery, murder and a flying machine that will leave you on tenterhooks right until the last word.
Athan Wilde lives above the family-run haberdashery with his Ma, Grandma and two sisters, one of which can not walk. At a time before flight has been achieved, he has big dreams of soaring into the skies and with his friend and mentor, Mr. Chen, he is close to building a flying machine. Athan’s world comes crashing down one morning when he awakens to the news that Mr. Chen has been murdered and what he decides to do next will have far reaching repercussions. With his employer now dead and his Ma and Grandma determined to set him to work as a nightman cleaning the sewerage off the streets, Athan must act fast to salvage his flying dream. He desperately wants to fly, but other people want the plans to the flying machine and they are willing to do anything, including kidnapping and murder. As the stakes become higher and the lives of Athan and those he loves become increasingly under threat he must decide whether the flying machine is worth risking everything for.
This is a cracking underdog story that explores the determination and risk-taking necessary in not giving up on one’s dreams. The story teaches us that everyone is able to do something incredible if they are willing to never give up. Whilst the risk-taking in the story is taken to the extreme, asking whether it is worth putting your loved ones in danger to accomplish your dream, it is not that far fetched. No-one achieves anything without risking something. There is a real feel-good sibling bond in the story and it reminds the reader that having a sibling is a wonderful gift. So often siblings are portrayed as argumentative and have a love-hate relationship with one another. The siblings in this story show love, compassion, encouragement and belief towards each other. The story also highlights the issue of disability and particularly how those with disabilities were viewed in a different period of time. We would like to think these views are outdated and are no longer part of society but I’m well aware that this is not the case. The words that Hitchcock uses to describe the disabled girl, particularly through the Grandma’s speech, really made me cringe - it is horrible to think that such words were used to talk about disabled individuals, it is even worse to think that such words still exist in society today.
The story is set amongst the gritty and dark streets of Bath in wintry weather which adds an extra layer of suspense and danger to proceedings. The action flits seamlessly between the foreboding streets and the wintry rooftops. The action on the rooftops definitely has a vibe that is similar to that of Katherine Rundell’s marvellous Rooftoppers. There is something very special about children navigating a city via the rooftops and Fleur Hitchcock captures this perfectly.
Hitchcock has created some really interesting and frightening characters. Grandma is outspoken and is full of tales of folklore and superstition, her attitudes towards her granddaughter’s disability are quite frankly shocking. In Colonel Blade we have one of the meanest villains I can recall reading about in a long time. Everything about him screams run, he is truly terrifying.
This read is not for the faint-hearted, it does some have scary moments and much of Fleur Hitchcock’s skill as a writer is around building tension and suspense and making the reader feel uncomfortable. Probably best read by 9+.