Review: Whitley: Among the Red Stars

Book Cover
title: Among the Red Stars
author: Gwen C. Katz
pages: 384
format: Hardcover
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads
rating: 4/5
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.

Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.

As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.

I only really needed two words before I was itching to get my hands on this book: Night Witches. The story follows the true-to-life unit of all-female Russian bomber pilots during WWII. According to the author’s notes, only the POV characters and their immediate family are wholly fictional; the rest of the characters are based upon historical figures.

With that kind of set up to recommend it, of course I had to check it out. And on that front, the book did not disappoint. There’s a wealth of awesome ladies for us to follow, running the gamut from heroic to villainous (eh, ish), from competent to …okay, well, it’s about girls who only got into the unit to start with by being elite, everyone’s competent. But there’s still a glorious variety. (And an on-page f/f romance between secondary characters, though very minor.)

Though the book is primarily concerned with Russia’s involvement in WWII, it also touches on a variety of thorny issues, such as one character’s brush with hyper-suspicious Russian government. It was unflinching in its depictions of the variety of faults and evils in the Russian government while balancing that with Valka’s deep love of her homeland and desire to protect her home. She had a wonderful, strongly distinctive voice to carry the book and relay the extraordinary events.

The only thing, really, that interrupted my enjoyment was the surprise epistolary format. The bulk of the pages are given over to Valka and her childhood friend-turned-crush Pasha writing letters to each other: Valka from her aviation unit and Pasha from the infantry unit he’s been drafted into. Now, I don’t like epistolary format anyway, so I’m biased, but I don’t think the book really used the format to effect. The letters were primarily used to summarize large swaths of time and huge plot events like entire units moving or awards being handed out or characters being injured, whereas the straight-narration portions were used for small, reflective character moments. That…feels a bit backwards to me. But like I said, I’m biased, maybe others will like it just fine.

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