Pula’s (With Courage and Honor, 2010, etc.) first foray into fiction chronicles the lives of a group of World War II bombers in the Air Force.
The first volume in a series, the novel explores the early military careers of two aspiring pilots. The story opens as quiet but brilliant 2nd Lt. Matthew Moore, part Native American, is accosted by a group of white officers who have learned that he is engaged to a white woman. Though gigantic in stature, gentle Matt is severely wounded by a knife in the struggle; he’s saved from death by fellow pilot-in-training 1st Lt. Jack Harrington, who runs off the racist mob and ensures Matt receives proper treatment at the base hospital. The two become fast friends and help each other train to fly the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber. After only a short time, Jack is honored to become Matt’s best man, while Matt helps Jack overcome his grief after receiving a Dear John letter from his sweetheart back home. Though filled with technical details regarding the Air Force during World War II, the novel is more focused on the men preparing for battle. The author delves into the characters backstories with varying degrees of success: Results are often interesting, although certain players are reduced to stock characters. The author skillfully folds historical details into the narrative. Especially effective is a scene involving a survivor from the fall of Warsaw and the Nazi death camps. Unfortunately, the protagonists come across too sickly sweet or squeaky clean—in fact, nearly all the characters are extremely attractive, without vices and with pure motivations. Furthermore, clichéd romantic scenes involving Matt and his wife, Evelyn, feel out of place with the rest of the text. The prose can be clunky and repetitive; when introduced, each character is described by hair color, height and weight. What does shine, though, is the author’s love for her subjects. Pula makes an admirable attempt at examining how men so young dealt with the responsibility of liberating Europe and destroying Nazi Germany, despite coming from a country that was often inhospitable.
An intense focus on the human side of war but marred by weak writing and unoriginal characters.