A female fighter pilot flies above the Eastern Front in this debut World War II novel.
Twenty-year-old Junior Lt. Nadya Buzina is still a novice pilot—she hasn’t even made her first kill—when she tangles with a German ace in the skies above the Don. Both Nadya and the ace end up crashed and stranded on the ground. Nadya manages to escape capture by the Nazis—the ace does not try to stop her—and makes it back to the Russian line, where her injuries are treated. Reeling from the guilt over the death of another pilot who was killed on the mission, Nadya begins to doubt her own abilities as a soldier, as well as the worthiness of the machine she serves. She gets on the wrong side of a commissar named Petrov, who seems bent on proving that Nadya is a coward and traitor. All the while, Nadya fights the Luftwaffe in the clouds, while on the ground she deals with unexpected romantic feelings for her female mechanic. It all leads, inevitably, to a clash in Stalingrad: “a last stand,” one character remarks, one “we may lose.” Love, revenge, and the future of her homeland are all on the line when Nadya takes to the skies above the war’s bloodiest battlefield for a reunion with the German ace. Taylor tells Nadya’s story with a great degree of control. The pacing and tension pull the reader forward with the speed of a fighter plane, while still managing to communicate the mounting losses and horrors of combat on the Eastern Front. The dialogue sometimes tends toward clichés: “I always did break the rules,” Nadya muses, while another pilot shouts overs the radio, “Damn it, Nadya…You aren’t allowed to die.” On the whole, however, the characters are well drawn, and their arcs move in unexpected directions. Though some scenes drift into melodrama, the ending manages to satisfy the reader while still staying true to the tremendous devastation of the war in which it is set.
A compelling, female-centric combat tale involving Russians and Nazis.