On the Other Side of the Sky
A novel combining history, adventure, and more than a little touch of the arcane
The book is available for preorder (publication date 1 December 2021)
Jane Machin (1770 – c1820)
Fictional A girl born to a young farm girl and (supposedly) a worker in Matthew Boulton‘s manufactory in Soho, to the north of Birmingham, where he worked with James Watt to develop the steam engine. Both Boulton and Watt were members of the Lunar Society, of which Erasmus Darwin was also a member, and both appear in the story.
From a young age, Jane was the focus of uncanny and disturbing events, which led her to be sent away to Switzerland, from where she returned to England some ten years later.
Once returned, she seeks revenge on the being who claims to be her father, believing him to have been responsible for the death of several people to whom she was close.
Since Jane is a fictional character, there is obviously no portrait of her. This is a portrait of an unnamed young girl by Élisabeth Vigée le Brun. The face corresponds quite closely to what my mental image of Jane.
Erasmus Darwin (1731 – 1802)
Historical One of the major characters in this story. A truly remarkable man, who combined the professions of physician, botanist, inventor and poet, becoming a national leader in all these fields. He turned down the invitation to become the King’s physician, preferring to remain in Lichfield, his adopted home. His method of steering a four-wheeled vehicle is still employed in today’s cars.
As a man, he was said to be a kind and sympathetic character. He married twice, with twelve children by his two wives, and between his marriages had two daughters by the governess of his children (he later provided them with the means to establish a school which they ran, by all accounts successfully).
In the book, he becomes a father figure to Jane, and plays a prominent role in the opening and closing parts of the story.
The portrait is by his friend and patient Joseph Wright of Derby, who also makes an appearance in the story.
Otto Esquibel-Schultz (c1740 – c1810)
Fictional (also known as Hermecritus and Philomentor) A half-Basque, half-German mesmerist, conjuror, showman and alchemist. Despite his deception and fleecing of the gullible, he is actually quite learned in alchemical and related matters, and ends up by becoming a professor at Heidelberg University.
He is a good friend to Jane, though their relationship begins with a good deal of mutual distrust.
The painting is by Joseph Wright of Derby, entitled The Alchemist or in full, The Alchymist, in Search of the Philosopher’s Stone, Discovers Phosphorus, and prays for the successful Conclusion of his operation, as was the custom of the Ancient Chymical Astrologers. Both alchemy and phosphorus have their parts to play in the story.
Thomas FitzAlan (1756 – 1793)
Fictional A former British officer in the American War of Independence. When he meets Jane Machin, he is employed by the British government in a somewhat mysterious role, which involves some investigations into those who come from the other side of the sky.
He is the twin brother of Sir George FitzAlan, Bart, the owner of Shawborough Hall in Staffordshire. Shawborough is fictrional, but is partly based on Shugborough Hall, the ancestral home of the Anson family, Earls of Lichfield, and partly on smaller country houses in the area, such as Hilderstone Hall.
The portrait is by John Hoppner – An Unknown British Officer, Probably of 11th (North Devonshire) Regiment of Foot and is dated around 1800, a little later than Thomas FitzAlan appears in the story.
Baruch ben Chaim (1720 – 1802)
Fictional A Kabbalist rabbi from Brno. His insight and wisdom are instrumental in the final defeat of Him, Jane’s father.
The picture depicts Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, also known as Vilna Gaon, a non-Hasidic, but still Kabbalist, rabbi from Lithuania, roughly contemporary with the story. The face corresponds quite closely to the mental image I had for Baruch ben Chaim.
“Him” (20,000BC (??) – 1793)
Fictional Jane’s true father, who comes from the other side of the sky – he seems to be the leader of a dispossessed race, the Fae, whose world no longer exists – though that world may never have been in our universe, as described in some Jewish traditions which have God destroying worlds (universes) which did not please Him.
His name is only discovered late in the book. Knowledge of a name gives power over the possessor, as in stories such as that of Rumpelstiltskin.
The painting is by Henri Fuseli, who makes a couple of offstage appearances in the book. Swiss-born, he moved to England, and was famous for his depictions of supernatural and Shakespearean scenes. This is one of his most famous, called The Nightmare, and depicts the kind of terror that Jane’s father inspires.
Hugo Lombardi (c1501 – c1580)
Fictional? Probably the pseudonym of an obscure English occultist, author of De philosophia contra naturam Mundi (An Unnatural History of the World), published in York in 1547, a page of which is reproduced here, there being no portrait available.
This page deals with those from the other side of the sky, which he identifies with the beings sometimes known as Fairies or the Good Folk, and in the book referred to as Fae. He also anticipates the Rosicrucians in his classification of the beings collectively known as Elementals: Gnomes, Undines, Sylphs, and Salamanders.
He is alleged to have travelled extensively in East Asia following his graduation from Christ’s College, Cambridge, and prior to settling in Lichfield. He is rumoured to have had dealings with John Dee, but these rumours remain unproven.
Characters and text on this page ©2021, Hugh Ashton & j-views Publishing