Annouay, France, 1783. Magpie is a guttersnipe and opportunist thief, struggling to support herself and her pet cockerel, Coco. When the unpleasant Madame Delacroix offers her five gold coins to steal a box from the attic of the Montgolfiers’ house, Magpie reluctantly agrees.
What she doesn’t know is that the Montgolfiers are attempting to invent the world’s first flying balloon until she finds herself clutching the balloon’s rope and floating across the sky. It’s a terrifying but exhilarating journey, and that’s only the beginning. Madame Delacroix has a hidden agenda; English spies want to discover the Montgolfiers’ aeronautical plans; and King Louis wants the glory of flight to be a French achievement. He is not prepared to wait, and he is suspicious of Magpie: could she be an English spy?
I really enjoyed Sky Chasers. It’s a thrilling aeronautical adventure about the dangerous origins of man’s—and woman’s—conquest of the skies. Emma Carroll knows exactly how to ratchet up the dramatic tension. There’s a lot at stake for Magpie, too. She’s a young, illiterate, small-time thief, but is that the sort of person she wants to be? And will anyone listen to her own ideas about flight?
Emma Carroll has plainly done her research, and the problems of finding the right material for the balloon and the right weight, fuel, temperature, etc., are woven seamlessly into the story. My one niggle is that there is little sense that France is on the edge of revolution. Surely Magpie, a street urchin, would have been aware of seething disaffection amongst the poor, and had at least some intimations of impending disaster. And, according to Sky Chasers’ afterword, King Louis watched the balloon ascend in September 1793, a difficult feat when he was guillotined in January. Recommended for children of ten plus.