The Adventures of Miles and Isabel
The title characters of Tom Gilling’s short novel are born on the same date in 1856 Sydney, Australia. Miles is the only son of actress Eliza McGinty, who goes into labor while performing onstage. Isabel is the sixth daughter of respectable Ernest and Louisa Dowling. The two children grow up in very different worlds, but both show an adventurous streak early and are fascinated with flight, starting the day Isabel inadvertently takes a ride in a hot-air balloon.
Vignettes depict the two protagonists’ lives from early childhood to about age 19, when they finally meet and discover a common purpose. Strongly drawn characters, natural dialog, and an engaging, well-paced story hold the reader’s attention. Since Miles and his mother lead a gypsy-ish life traveling to many different Australian towns, a map of Australia during the period would have helped to orient the reader. Otherwise this is an enjoyable and imaginative novel that captures the excitement and the uncertainty of pioneer efforts in the pre-airplane age.