For Antony’s 17th birthday he requests an aeroplane from his rich but distant father. He wants to impress not only his Eton friends but the village boys he meets every holiday. 13-year-old Lily is part of this group and has always adored Antony although her devotion is tolerated but not often reciprocated. Lily’s childhood echoes Antony’s as they have both grown up motherless and with disabled siblings. But Lily has to take on responsibilities beyond her years to care for her brain damaged younger brother, while Antony’s blind and deaf sister Helena is cossetted in her own apartment and has two carers to look after her.
Antony gets his plane; when he tells his village friends he wants to take them on trips they are at first excited, then apprehensive as Antony has a reputation for reckless behaviour and has only had a couple of flying lessons. It is Lily who fearlessly agrees to fly with him and is both terrified but exhilarated by the experience. Although feisty and strong-willed, Lily knows she will do anything Antony asks of her.
It’s not long before Antony persuades her to parachute out of his plane. The breath-taking description of her descent to earth makes you believe you are up there with her. It is the most amazing thing she had ever done and gives her a passion for parachuting for the rest of her life. Antony plans one grand end of school party to be held in the grotto on the estate while his father is away on business. He wants Helena to be the star of the show and dragoons Lily into organising the party. Antony is desperate to give Helena a good time but it all goes horribly wrong and she drowns. His father cannot be located but appears secretly one evening – his nefarious financial dealings have finally caught up with him – he is on the run, wanted for arms dealing and murder. Antony flies his plane to Paris to help his father to escape and his father is never seen again.
Antony’s life takes a downturn as he realizes he is directionless and rudderless. Hating the thought of living with his dreadful aunt and starting work in a solicitor’s office, he runs away to Brooklands and picks up a few odd jobs but the money soon runs out as he is not a trained mechanic. He takes up with some rich Americans, returns to his old village and meets Lily again whose love for him is undimmed. He persuades the Americans to take him and Lily up in their plane as he is keen to try parachuting himself. Lily is full of the wonders of floating down to earth but Antony is suddenly terrified of jumping and full of self-doubt. He jumps but pulls the ripcord disastrously late and is horribly injured as a result and his worst nightmare becomes reality as he is forced to live with his aunt. Lily marries the steady and loyal Cedric and meets Antony once more before he marries his nurse. There is one last satisfying twist to this captivating story.
Beginning in the 1920s and spanning a generation, this is a snapshot of a bygone era with a cast of memorable characters. K M Peyton fans will relish this beautifully written and captivating period piece of a spirited heroine, unrequited love and a passion for flying. Downton Abbey eat your heart out!