This novel is the first in the author's RFC Quartet, set in the fictional Hornet Squadron. We follow a fairly large number of characters throughout the book, although the lead (just) is a young pilot called Paxton, who serves as our introduction to the squadron when he turns up at the end of a disastrous delivery flight. Paxton begins as a truly unsympathetic character - arrogant, incompetent and thoughtless but also young and inexperienced and quite unready for the rough and tumble atmosphere of the squadron, where death is ever-present and the pilots respond with forced high-spirits and alcohol.
This is a fairly brutal tale. The life expectance of an RFC pilot wasn't great, and that is reflected in the story, which often quite major characters dying quite randomly. This gives the story an authentic feel - pilots don’t survive just because they are in the middle of a sub-plot while new characters sometimes barely make it past a couple of pages. A key part of the book is the way in which the surviving pilots deal with this stress, and the contrast that provides with the short but intense periods of combat.
This is a splendid novel. Paxton's slow development is convincing, the feel of squadron life is well researched and the slow build-up of stress, its impact and the efforts made to overcome it give the novel its heart.
Author: Derek Robinson
Publisher: Maclehose Press