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Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite
Aces: A Novel of Pilots in WWII is an historical fiction novel written by Michael January. Eighteen-year-old Lacy Dunbrough was thrilled at the spectacle that was the National Air Races. It was 1935, and the Cleveland Aerodrome was the site of the competition featuring the best air racers to date. The competition meant rather more to Lacy, however, as the two men whom she cared about most deeply were up there in the sky. Miki Von Steuven and Aaron Miller were best friends, and they each seemed to instinctively know how the other would react as they performed together. Lacy was torn between the two of them. Miki was blond and blue-eyed; the aristocratic son of a German baron, stolid and steady. Aaron was more mercurial and jokingly referred to himself as a “low-life gutter rat from the wrong side of the tracks.” Her two Princeton boys and the rarified world they inhabited seemed far removed from the rumors of war in Europe.
Aces: A Novel of Pilots in WWII is an action-packed and thrilling novel featuring two college friends who find themselves on opposite sides of the fighting during the war. I loved the opening which featured the two displaying their skills in the National Air Races, and found watching them do real battle in the skies over Europe to be oddly reminiscent of those former lives. January’s book details the sacrifice that pilots accepted as part of their lot during war. The reader can’t help but watch as characters, who came to life in their imaginations, lose those lives so easily -- one mistake was usually all it took. The images of those who were able to escape their doomed aircraft, only to suffer horribly from fire as they were helpless in their parachutes, is tragic and horrifying. January’s descriptions of the dogfights is first-rate, and his parallel story of Lacy and her own efforts to help during the war is compelling and real.
I’ve read and reviewed many World War II historical novels, history book and biographical accounts, and was most moved reading this book. January took me up there in those planes and had me cued in to how those pilots felt, thought, and reacted during those air battles. He also showed me how they coped with the loss of their fellow airmen and accepted the fragility of their own hold on life. His book presents an unforgettable look at those airmen and the sacrifices that were part of their everyday existence. Aces: A Novel of Pilots in WWII is most highly recommended.