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Reviewed by Raanan Geberer for Readers' Favorite
The fabled air battles of World War I have a tendency to be romanticized, and even satirized as in the popular 1960s song, Snoopy and the Red Baron. But Will Ottinger, in his historical novel A Season for Ravens, not only makes the lives of those pioneering pilots realistic, he takes readers behind the scenes – on both sides. On the German side, he focuses on Lt. Stefan Dietzel and his training officer, Sgt. Rudolf Reiter. Both know they need more victories before the Americans enter the war, and both have to explain the death of a general’s son who was one of their pilots. On the Allied side, Ottinger focuses on two American volunteers in the Royal Flying Corps — Nathan Fleming and Billy Teal. Fleming is a working-class Irish-American who once worked in the stockyards and who becomes infatuated with a British nurse. Teal, who comes from a genteel Southern family, is a psychopathic sadist who sees the war as a game. Every once in a while, he’s overcome by what he calls “the worm” — the urge to kill. And he doesn’t target only the enemy.
Ottinger’s characters in A Season for Ravens are fascinating and believable. We see how the pilots on both sides are more alike than they would care to admit — most of them mainly want to survive. Above all, Ottinger demonstrates for us how air technology, which was barely out of its cradle when the war began, had to jump-start during the war. We even meet Anthony Fokker, whose factory turned out some of the most lethal German flying machines of the war. Ottinger clearly knows his fighter planes and how they handled in flight. For World War I aficionados and for fans of historical fiction in general, A Season for Ravens is a must.