Tuesday 26 July 2022

Augustin and the Hot Air Balloon

Augustin and the Hot Air Balloon by David Metzenthen (Ford Street) ISBN 9781925804966 RRP $17.95

Reviewed by Nean McKenzie

In 1783, around the time of the French Revolution, the Montgolfier brothers launched a balloon made of silk near the palace of Versailles. The basket below contained a duck, a sheep, and a rooster. Augustin and the Hot Air Balloon takes this historical event and supposes what would have happened if there were a couple of young people who stowed away in the basket. And furthermore, what if the balloon flew off and crash landed somewhere? The result is an action-packed adventure story and an interesting re-imagining of life during this time.

An unlikely friendship develops between the main characters, a peasant boy named Augustin and a rich girl called Celine, who is a friend of Queen Marie Antoinette. They must return to the palace through the wild country of France, through villages where people are starving. At the beginning of each chapter there is an interesting historical fact related to the events of the chapter, for example there really was a priceless diamond necklace that went missing around the time the balloon was launched. Also, around that time there was a volcano in Iceland that erupted and affected the weather. As a result, crops failed, and people starved.  

Augustin is a likeable and brave main character who wants a better life, but he is also incredibly loyal to his family. Celine, who is from Austria like Marie Antoinette, is also courageous. She is clued into the intrigue in the court of Versailles and when she and Augustin get back there, she helps them to survive. As the events of the French Revolution come to a climax, Celine makes an escape plan. As we know from history, being a rich person at that time was very dangerous. But for Celine, at least, it is a happy ending. Augustin also must make a choice: to go with the girl he loves or stay and help his family.

If you look closely at the cover of Augustin and the Hot Air Balloon all the aspects of the story are combined, with the large balloon in the centre. This book of historical fiction is suitable for readers 10-15 years old. 

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