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Reviewed by Lucinda E Clarke for Readers' Favorite
Ellie Midwood’s Of Knights and Dogfights is set before and during World War II and tells the story of four young men who join the flying school at Schwechat near Vienna in 1938. Coming from different backgrounds, they all share a love of flying for the freedom and the dangers. We meet Johann and Willi, complete opposites, Rudi and Walt, who is half-Jewish. When war breaks out, they are sent off to fight for Germany in Europe, North Africa, and later on the Eastern Front. Not all of them survive the war, but long before it is over, they begin to question the reasons and rationale, and whether they are fighting for the right side. They have doubts about the Nazi regime, the sanity of Hitler and the lies and propaganda they are expected to believe.
When I chose this book to review, I was not sure I would enjoy it as much as this author’s other novels. I am a great fan of her work and Of Knights and Dogfights is one of her best. Midwood did not disappoint. This is not a ‘man’s’ book despite its detailed descriptions of the dog fights, the handling of the planes and the aerial tactics. Topics of friendship, beliefs, morals and comradeship are all explored as these teenagers fly one mission after another. The slow dawning of what part these brave young men were being forced to play on the chessboard of an insane man’s dreams was masterful. In places I smiled, in others my eyes filled with tears. Midwood knows how to spin her words as she takes you to the desert in North Africa, then to the frozen wastelands of Russia. She pulls no punches in describing the brutality and the gut-wrenching scenes against the backdrop of a shameful period in history.
What made this book really special for me was the realization that while the Nazis/Germans have been vilified for the part they played in World War II, there were many fine, upstanding people who did not share those beliefs and stuck to their values until the very end and even beyond. I was amazed to read that the two main characters were based on the lives of real people who flew for the Luftwaffe. I can’t praise this book highly enough and I wish I could give it more than 5 stars. It stands head and shoulders above any other World War II novel I’ve ever read.