Five Weeks in a Balloon was in the same volume as Around The World in Eighty Days and was Verne’s first published work. You can tell that it’s by the same author due to the attention to detail, masses of geographical and scientific data and style of writing dialogue.
However, it’s obviously not as polished as his later works. It does labour quite a bit and gets buried under its own source material. Maybe it’s simply that I’ve not been to Africa (other than Nigeria) where the novel is set, or that the Africa of today bears virtually no resemblance to the one of the mid-19th Century when the novel is set. I don’t know, but it just didn’t grab me the same way that Around The World did.
The characters in it are fairly recognisable. We have a clever doctor who invents the balloon of the title and a manservant who gets them out of scrapes while being utterly devoted to him and also the the other “gentleman” aboard who is a skilled hunter. In a way it reminds me of the cast of Conan Doyle‘s The Lost World gelled with that of Verne’s own Around The World.
It’s still enjoyable, though limited in scope by the very centrpiece – the balloon in which they are carried. Of course, the randomness of air currents is a superb tool for an author. Even sticking within nature’s rules, air currents are tremendously fickle so can chop, change or disappear entirely at the writer’s will.
Oh, don’t read this if you’re American as the infamous “n” word appears multiple times to describe the inhabitants of the continent. For those of you wanting to hunt down and kill Mr Verne for his terrible racist attitute, please remember he was writing in an era when this word was utterly acceptable (or at least when everyone was racist)… and he’s been dead since 1905.