Score 93/100 (9.3 out of 10)
“Knights of the Air: Rage” (Book One) by Iain Stewart is a military fiction novel that centers around a superb fighter pilot named Lance Fitch during World War I. In one incredibly tragic incident, Lance and his compatriots are shot down over North Africa by German (“Hun”) guns. They are treated with brutality by their sadistic captors who cripple Lance's brother, burn one of the other POWs alive (in the most gruesome scene in the book) and shoot the POW's son. The Germans, even in this pre-Nazi era, are portrayed as barbarically evil, and they certainly serve as effective villains to tell the revenge story that needs to be told. And what a revenge story it is.
This is the second consecutive aviation, war-themed, military fiction novel we're reviewed (the first being “Arlen's Gun” by Edgar Doleman). It's a really close call between the two as to which one is better, but each offers something unique and different. “Knights of the Air” really excels at showing, describing, and demonstrating actual air-to-air combat and “dogfighting,” and this is because both the British and Germans had formidable air forces (for the time) during World War I. By contrast “Arlen's Gun” took place during the Vietnam War in which the United States had clear air superiority over the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. So, despite their similarities, the dynamics of the books are different.
The British fighter aircraft the SE5 is as special in this book as the “Spooky” AC-47 aircraft was in “Arlen's Gun.” The SE5 (“Scout Experimental 5”) was one of the fastest aircraft of World War I. It was maneuverable and able to take a bit of a beating. It began to phase out the “Camel” fighter plane which is also used and often mentioned in the book, sometimes with great reverence. The Camel, despite being slower and being able to climb less was still in use until that point in the war since the SE5 was a pretty late addition in the context of the war.
The best parts of this novel are when Lance and company board their planes and go after the German fighters. Some of the dogfights, especially the ones at the end around the battle of Passchendael in Belgium. The descriptions of combat are so intricate and fierce that you can't help but be on the edge your seat while reading this. There's even at least one crash in this book, and when it happens, it's like you're actually in the cockpit experiencing it—making every desperate attempt to save yourself and/or the craft.
Something else that's incredible about this book is the heart that went into researching the actual history and the people involved. You get to read about the protagonist rubbing shoulders with Albert freakin' Ball for goodness sakes! Albert Ball was the greatest flying ace to come out of the United Kingdom during World War I, an absolute national hero and legend comparable to the German's Red Baron. Speaking of the Red Baron, Baron Von Richthofen is in this book too! He's such a heel! No, he's not quite a villain, but he does serve a kind of antagonistic role, putting across a stoic personality who views battle in idealistic terms—man against man, soldier against soldier. His brother, Lothar, is in here too, but no one really cares about him... which is ironic because he pulls off one of the biggest feats in the book (arguably).
We're excited for the sequels!
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