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The Oxford Aeronaut Part 1:: From Cooking to Chemistry Paperback – 16 Apr 2016
Book 1 of 2 in the Oxford Aeronaut Series
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British Balloon Museum and Library Review
I was a little sceptical about this book having received two books on Sadler within the last year, but my goodness what a good read it was. It was a novel, but based on fifteen years of research that Jane has spent on James Sadler and his life. Jane spends time with descriptions of life in the 18th century in Oxford, and highlights the class divide very well, the difference between Town and Gown. I have a problem not knowing what genre to place the book in. If it was a film it would be a docudrama, but as a book, what do you call it? I wonder if anyone can help there? A few paragraphs in part four that were slightly incorrect, but as it is a novel it really doesn't matter. [author note: Historical Novels Society categorise the books as ‘historical fiction - biography’ – but I would add drama too!]
Historical Novels Society Review
James Sadler was born in the mid-18th century during the reign of George III, when the Industrial Revolution and the age of science and invention were about to burst into full bloom. Sadler – of whom I had never heard until reading these two sequential novels – was the first English balloonist, a chemist and, prior to these achievements, a pastry chef in the family shop in Oxford. This was a period of great instability, including several wars with Europe and eventually with the American colonies, yet the thirst for the emerging sciences was sandwiched between the prejudice of religion and medieval superstition. James dreams of achieving man-made flight, but his ambitions are thwarted by the Oxford universities, the Church and the Royal Society. The excitement of understanding natural things dominate his life, and he finds himself torn between his drive to discover more and his love for Mary Vane. The risks of daring to oppose those who believe they know better than he make his determination stronger, even when tragedy strikes and conflict raises its ugly head.
Knowing nothing of this extraordinary man or the subject, I have no idea how accurate the novels are, but does that matter? Overall, it is a good story. There are a couple of flaws (upper case where it isn’t needed: Mother/mother and Chemist/chemist as examples) and the contents in a table-grid at the front is clumsy in appearance. (Does fiction need a table of contents?) There is a three-page character list at the front, which is unnecessary as the books are fairly short, the longest being just under 280 pages. While the covers are interesting, they are somewhat dowdy, especially at thumbnail size online; something more invigorating maybe?
Written in the first person, the story does come across as ‘tell’ not ‘show’. I did not get much sense of time or place, although I did come to know Mr Sadler very well. I must also admit that the scientific element overwhelmed me a little, but readers who are interested in this remarkable Age of Enlightenment will find these two books interesting. It is a great shame that people like James Sadler are now forgotten; thank goodness for fiction where their lives and achievements can be fully resurrected.
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31 May 2016
I knew about James Sadler, and have read books which seemed to be just text taken from newspaper cuttings of the time, but Jane Browne brought him to life. I was sceptical to begin with thinking it might be another one like that, but I couldn't put it down. Full marks for a good book well researched.