The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

This wonderful story of a young woman with a passion for aviation is the first book I’ve read by Rebecca Mascull, but I enjoyed it so much I will certainly be going back to read her previous two novels. Set in the Lincolnshire town of Cleethorpes in the first two decades of the 20th century, The Wild Air is both fascinating and inspirational, with a heroine I loved and connected with immediately.

Her name is Cordelia Dobbs – Della for short – and her interest in flying begins at the age of fourteen when her Great Aunt Betty comes home from America, where she has lived for the last twenty years. Della is a quiet girl who often feels overshadowed by her more attractive and talented siblings, but things begin to change with Betty’s arrival. As the sister of a railway engineer, during her time in North Carolina Betty has been paying special attention to all the latest developments in engineering and flight and has even had the opportunity to see the planes produced by the famous Wright brothers.

Seeing that she has a kindred spirit in Della, Betty takes the girl under her wing (pun intended) and together they take part in kite-flying sessions on the beach while making plans to design their own flying machine one day. Despite the disapproval of her father, Della is determined to turn her hobby into a career and become an aviatrix – a female pilot. It isn’t easy – on approaching a flying instructor to ask for lessons, Della is told that ‘the air is not the place for a woman’ – but now that her mind is made up, she will stop at nothing to achieve her ambition.

I don’t personally share the characters’ love of aviation, but their enthusiasm – and the author’s – shines through on every page. Even though the descriptions of Della’s flights and the technical details of planes and flying didn’t always interest me, I could tell that they fascinated Della and that was all that mattered. I could also appreciate how much research Rebecca Mascull must have carried out to be able to write so convincingly about the subject. She brings each scene to life so well: visiting the Blackburn School of Flying on the beach at Filey, an air show Della attends with Auntie Betty – and her first flight as a passenger with the Belgian aviatrix Hélène Dutrieu, going through the full range of emotions from fear to wonder during this amazing experience. I know I would never have been brave enough to do what Della did; bearing in mind how new aeroplanes were at that time, how unreliable they could be, and that accidents – often fatal – did happen, I’m sure I would have been terrified to go up alone in one. We owe so much to these early pioneers of aviation who were prepared to take risks and try something new.

I wondered at first whether Della was a real person, but I quickly discovered that she wasn’t. However, I didn’t mind at all that I was reading about a fictional aviator rather than a real one; it allowed the author to take the story in different directions and develop personal storylines and relationships for Della without worrying about sticking to biographical facts. I loved the relationship that forms between Della and Auntie Betty as this quiet, reserved girl finds someone with whom she shares a bond and something she can put her heart and soul into. One of the most interesting relationships, though, is the one Della has with her father, Pop, a former actor who has been left angry and bitter after an injury brought his theatrical career to an end. Della feels that Pop has never shown her any love or encouragement and as the story progressed I kept hoping that the two of them would find a way to understand and accept each other.

In the second half of the book, World War I dominates as several of Della’s loved ones go off to fight and Della herself searches for ways in which she can play a part. Towards the end of the war, things take a dramatic turn and, without going into details and spoiling the story, this was the only part of the novel that I thought stretched the imagination a bit too far…until I decided that actually it was consistent with Della’s personality and just the sort of thing she would try to do. If I haven’t already made it clear, I loved this book – and now I really must read The Visitors and Song of the Sea Maid sooner rather than later!

This post is part of a blog tour for The Wild Air. For more reviews and features, please see the tour schedule below. And thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of the book for review via NetGalley.

17 thoughts on “The Wild Air by Rebecca Mascull

    • Helen says:

      Thank you! It’s been a while since I took part in a blog tour so I’m enjoying following this one, especially as The Wild Air is such a good book.

  1. Carmen says:

    If you enjoyed this story about a pioneer aviatrix, I think you would like Circling the Sun by Paula McLain on a similar topic about a real life woman in Kenya.

    • Helen says:

      I think your blog was where I first heard about Rebecca Mascull’s books a few years ago and I remember thinking that they sounded good. After enjoying this one so much I’m sure I’ll be looking out for the other two.

  2. Judy Krueger says:

    I haven’t read Circling the Sun, but I did read the memoir of the woman that novel is based on: West With the Night by Beryl Markham. Another great historical novel about female pilots is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein. I am always inspired by women who are physically brave, because I am not. When it comes to women in aviation, at least from the reading I have done, the Brits have outdone the Americans. Though we did have Amelia Earhart.

    • Helen says:

      I’m not physically brave either, so I really admired Della in this book! I borrowed Code Name Verity from the library last year but never had time to read it and took it back unread; maybe I should try again!

    • Helen says:

      Thank you, Sandra. I was hoping to enjoy this book, having heard good things about her previous two, so I’m pleased it lived up to my expectations. I’m looking forward to reading the others now. 🙂

  3. Constance says:

    I am not familiar with this author and it sounds delightful. I second the recommendation of Code Name Verity. And have you ever read The Lynmara Legacy? Those who enjoy historical fiction set around the World Wars would appreciate it.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, this is a lovely book. Since posting this review I have also read The Song of the Sea Maid and enjoyed that one too. I haven’t read The Lynmara Legacy, so thank you for recommending it. 🙂

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