The Flight of Sarah Battle

Written by Alix Nathan
Review by Jasmina Svenne

Sarah Battle grows up amid the chaos of her father’s coffeehouse in late 18th-century London where, inspired by the French Revolution, political debates about the rights of the common man (and woman) are rife.

Obliged to serve behind the counter after the death of her mother, Sarah dreams of something greater than her narrow life and her father’s cynicism. But is the answer to her longings James Wintrige, Customs Office clerk and member of the Corresponding Society, who dazzles her with liberal rhetoric? Or is it printer and bookseller Thomas Cranch, who dreams of a freer and fairer society in America?

It was always going to be tough for a debut novelist to live up to the positive review from Hilary Mantel that graces the front cover of this novel, but by and large Alix Nathan succeeds. Her characters are quirky without descending into stereotypes, and her research is blended with her plot, bringing the period vividly to life.

For me, however, the pace flags a little towards the end. I’m not wholly opposed to open-ended novels – I thoroughly enjoyed James Long’s The Balloonist, for instance – but I can’t help feeling that this fairly short book would have ended more satisfactorily if just one more chapter had been added to bring the story to a natural pause (while still leaving the way open for a sequel), instead of being left literally hanging in mid-air.

One minor point. Is it really necessary to use a word as modern as “unfazed” when there are plenty of more neutral words (such as unruffled or unperturbed) that could be used instead? That said, I am looking forward to reading more of Sarah’s adventures in the future. A writer to watch out for.