This historical novel follows a former cavalry lieutenant as he rises through the ranks in the British air force during World War I.
Lt. Michael Howard is dispatched to the front lines in 1914 as part of the 9th Hussars, a cavalry regiment, though a change in commanders prompts him to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps. As the war progresses, airplane technology improves by leaps and bounds, and as he alternates between the front and periods in England as a trainer and test pilot, Howard is promoted, wounded and decorated. Author Mercer fills the book with so much fascinating discussion of technology that his book almost becomes a historical techno-thriller. The research is excellent, not just on the development of warplanes, but also on the progress of the war as a whole. In fact, Mercer’s workmanlike writing seems so intent on creating historical context that the text goes too far with information not directly relevant to the storyline. Much of this detail could be left out or added in a way that doesn’t interrupt the plot. Only after 100 pages can readers begin to connect with the characters. Even afterward, frequent changes in narrative tone can be jarring and distracting from the main action. Elsewhere, the narrative unnecessarily foreshadows upcoming events and inserts clumsy asides on the fates of minor characters. The passage of time is often very fast and confusing, and though the characters are reasonably well drawn, a less breakneck pace would allow for some needed depth and development. Mercer also spends several pages at the end of the book describing postwar events, then alludes to a continuation of the story during World War II. Perhaps it would have been more effective to end this volume at the Armistice and leave the interwar period and World War II to their own volumes.
Impressive research, solid characters and a compelling plot held back by an excessive history lesson.