James Ellsworth is a bit jaded, especially for his young age. He hates school, and longs for his parents’ estate, where life is far more pleasant. Meeting new schoolmate Daniel Courtney is a much-needed distraction, one that will prove more and more engrossing as James and Daniel grow older. When his father dies, James is thrust into a position of responsibility, not just to his estate, but to his mother and sister as well. … As they grow older, James and Daniel discover that life is not what they thought it would be when they were schoolboys together, and that, even as they try to make their own way, they always come back to one another. Can they find a way to make things work, no matter what their friends and family think?
Review by Mark R. Probst
Hayden Thorne’s debut novel, (a bit about that in a moment) Icarus in Flight, is a truly remarkable Victorian love story and had I not known better, I would have believed it had been penned by a successful, seasoned writer. It’s not quite accurate to say Icarus is solely Ms. Thorne’s debut, as it is one of a trio of her novels, all published simultaneously. The other two are Masks: Rise of Heroes, and Banshee.
The story begins in Wiltshire, England in 1841 when 12 year old James Ellsworth is introduced to a new boy in school, Daniel Courtney. Daniel is poor, frail and orphaned, making him the target of bullying, whereas James is upper-class and heir to his family’s fortune. James takes Daniel under his wing, offering him protection and takes on the task of enriching Daniel’s life with culture thereby making him suitable as a comrade.
The novel quickly advances to 1847 where James’s father has died and James is now the master of his house, having the responsibility to financially care for his mother and two sisters. Meanwhile Daniel’s brother has been killed, leaving him with no family at all and he leaves school to take over the position left by his brother as a secretary to an old gentleman writing his memoirs. The two boys, now young men, continue their friendship with Daniel occasionally visiting James’s Wiltshire home. Needless to say romance blossoms and within a few years the relationship is consummated during a trip to James’s secondary house in London. James makes plans to take care of Daniel, provide a home for them both, and to sponsor Daniel’s budding career as a writer. But someone gets to Daniel and convinces him that he would be soiling his brother’s memory as well as James’s good name, so Daniel flees to Norwich with the hope of making good on his own. James is crushed and sinks into despair, eventually leaving England for Venice where he takes up a life of empty sexual encounters. Thus, either boy could be Icarus, the character in Greek mythology who escaped his exile on Crete by flying away with wax wings, as they both fled from a life that felt to them like imprisonment. I won’t disclose how the story ends except to say that you won’t be disappointed.
Both boys are richly-drawn, likeable characters. James, due to his being born into wealth and inheritance, is understandably a bit of a snob from time to time, and Daniel is so humble and demure that you just want to scoop him up and cuddle him. The fact that he idolizes James makes him particularly vulnerable.
What makes this novel so impressive is its tone. Thorne has wonderfully captured polite, privileged Victorian society with the manners and mores of England in the 19th Century, the cadences of proper dialog, and prudent behavior all coming together in grand style. I definitely felt the influences of Forster (and dare I say, Austen?) The female characters are as well-drawn as the male characters. In a time of Britain’s history where women were not allowed to own property, Thorne demonstrates how the mother and daughters dealt with having their livelihood left in the hands of a young son. While they would never cross him directly, for he did legally have all the power, carefully crafted language was the tool they used to manipulate him into serving the interests of propagating the family.
Icarus in Flight is a bit light on plot, which is to be expected from what could essentially be considered a parlor drama. The real strength of the writing is Thorne’s dialog, which just sparkles with wit and intelligence. A lot of historicals I’ve read have modernisms and gaffes that pull you right out of the story. Not so here. The dialog is so polished and authentic to the British period, that it would be comfortable on the lips of actors in a production on the BBC. What’s more, I was surprised to learn that Ms. Thorne is an American through and through!
One last point I’d like to make is that Icarus in Flight is being marketed as a young adult novel. That’s fine, in that there is nothing inappropriate for younger readers, but if you are thinking of skipping it because you are not inclined to read YA fiction, you’d be making a mistake. The novel is completely geared toward adult readers, and there is no “dumbing down” to make it more palatable to youngsters. The publisher states it is for 16 and up and I would say that’s about right because the language is probably too sophisticated for younger teens.
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