When I saw that the 100th anniversary of Mary Stewart’s birth fell last weekend I knew that it was time for me to read another of her books.
I had always liked the look of ‘Airs Above the Ground’, and so off the shelf it came.
The story is set up beautifully.
Vanessa March is shocked to see her husband on a newsreel item about a circus fire in Austria, because she had believed him to be in Sweden on business. An old family friend saw the same newsreel and called Vanessa, asking her to escort her young relation – Timothy Lacey – to Vienna to visit his father. Vanessa hadn’t quite decided what to do, she was a little annoyed by the lady’s assumptions, but she seized the opportunity; because she really did want to find her husband and understand what was going on.
In Austria, seventeen year-old Tim admitted that his father wasn’t expecting him – that was only a story for his grandmother – and that what he really wanted was to see the country and to visit The Spanish Riding School in Vienna. And so he and Vanessa formed a plan to find the circus, to reunite Vanessa and her husband, and then to have a wonderful holiday.
Things don’t go entirely to plan.
They are caught in a web of intrigue that has been spun around the circus. And – in particular – around an old piebald horse.
This is a classic Mary Stewart story of romance and suspense; with all of the elements you might expect and with enough to make it feel a little different to her other books.
Vanessa was bright, capable and resourceful young woman, and I found it very easy to like her and to understand her feelings and her actions. I was sorry though that she had put her career as a vet (which was integral to the story) to one side to be a housewife, and that when her husband appeared she was rather too ready to put all of her trust in him. It was a nice change, having a married leading lady, and I liked her relationship with her husband, but I didn’t see enough of him to understand why she had married him.
Her relationship with Tim was much more interesting; an initial wariness grew into friendship, and they became a wonderful team. I suspected that they were only children who were discovering that it would be rather nice to have a sibling.
The settings were beautifully evoked and described: I loved visiting the countryside, the circus, the mountains, the villages and a wonderful gothic castle.
There were some wonderful moments. My favourites were the time in a meadow when Vanessa made a wonderful discovery about that old piebald house; and a dramatic chase around the battlements of the castle.
But I have to say that I don’t think this is Mary Stewart’s best book, and that this story didn’t hold me as it should have.
Some of that was down to me.
This might not have been the right book at the right time, and I might have enjoyed this book more when I was younger.
But some of it was down to the book.
Having a married heroine was a lovely variation on a theme, but it diminished the romance and the suspense, and there wasn’t enough in the rest of the story to make up for that.
The pacing was uneven, with the story slow to start and over-filled with action in the later stages; there was one sequence in particular where Vanessa and Tim did not belong. I can’t say more than that without revealing too much of the plot.
And, though the story of the old piebald house was very well done, there was much less of horses and of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna that I had expected.
None of these flaws were fatal though. I found much to enjoy, and I was always going to follow the story to the end.
Mary Stewart is still a favourite author; and I’m hoping that this was a wobble rather that a sign that I’ve outgrown her books.
Do you like her writing? Do you have favourites among her books?