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The Royal Air Force struggles for control of the British sky, facing down the daunting numbers of Luftwaffe aircraft across the English Channel. At the forefront of these battles, the Royal Air Force’s young pilots fight to survive under mounting pressure and deadly German Messerschmitts.
Where Eagles Never Flew follows the Battle of Britain as squadrons of the RAF must make do with undertrained pilots and little sleep if they want any chance at repelling the Luftwaffe bombing raids that become more and more frequent as the battle rages on. Operations rooms plot and direct the paths of aircraft, with members of the WAAF—Women’s Auxiliary Air Force—fielding waves of communications to and from the skies. Robert “Robin” Priestman flies on the front lines, dedicated to the fight despite weeks of unending tension and the great challenge of keeping his squadron awake and alive despite sortie after sortie.
Helena P. Schrader brings a wealth of knowledge to her story to make this one of the most authentic and well-told stories of the Battle of Britain we have ever read. The planes practically come alive in detail and clarity, both on their own and through their pilots’ maneuvers. Hurricanes, Spitfires, Messerschmitts, and more play out the breath-taking dogfights and bombing runs. Schrader takes time to show the small, vital differences between them all.
This realism extends to the characters themselves. The pilots, Ginger and Banks, worry what their squadron thinks of them and whether they will ever belong with the more experienced pilots who go into battle beside them. Emily Pryce, a volunteer at the Salvation Army, struggles with her pacifist ideals even as she falls for Robin, who risks his life every time he climbs into the air. The characters come to us as individuals who are authentic, relatable, and unique.
Schrader balances tension expertly between thrilling dogfight scenes and the more peaceful moments. Numerous perspectives tell this story, showing varied and sometimes deeply contrasting views on the Battle of Britain. From RAF pilots’ eyes to the Luftwaffe airmen, Schrader fleshes out her story with style. At the same time, she uses scenes of aerial battles and daily life as an opportunity to build a sense of impending danger, which becomes an all-encompassing nail-biter as the pilots of the RAF fight for victory.
Where Eagles Never Flew doesn’t shy away from either love nor loss and, in fact, takes the opportunity to sit with the characters in their pain, their grief, and their frustration. The morale of individuals and squadrons – even the whole RAF is palpable on the page. What ties this story together is the incredible resilience and camaraderie of the pilots, airmen, and WAAFs, despite the danger and death looming over them.
Schrader delivers a winning WWII account of the Battle of Britain that resonates with authenticity and will quickly find a place of honor on the shelf. In short, here’s a historical fiction novel that readers will find hard to put down. Highly recommended.