Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan
About the book:
A novel—inspired by the most celebrated regiment in the Red Army—about a woman’s sacrifice, courage, and love in a time of war.
Russia, 1941. Katya Ivanova is a young pilot in a far-flung military academy in the Ural Mountains. From childhood, she’s dreamed of taking to the skies to escape her bleak mountain life. With the Nazis on the march across Europe, she is called on to use her wings to serve her country in its darkest hour. Not even the entreaties of her new husband—a sensitive artist who fears for her safety—can dissuade her from doing her part as a proud daughter of Russia.
After years of arduous training, Katya is assigned to the 588th Night Bomber Regiment—one of the only Soviet air units comprised entirely of women. The Germans quickly learn to fear nocturnal raids by the daring fliers they call “Night Witches.” But the brutal campaign will exact a bitter toll on Katya and her sisters-in-arms. When the smoke of war clears, nothing will ever be the same—and one of Russia’s most decorated military heroines will face the most agonizing choice of all.
Paperback, 316 pages
Published January 1, 2018 by Lake Union Publishing
Upon being asked to read and review Aimie K. Runyan’s Daughters of the Night Sky, I headed over to check out the blurb, catching sight of her cover on the way. Having spent a number of school years reading anything I possibly could—historical or fiction—on World War II, it was easy to deduce the novel was set in this era. Excited about this, I was further pleasantly surprised to learn the book not only takes place in Russia, but also amongst an all-female pilot regiment. I’d read quite a lot about Russian women, including during the war, though rarely (if ever?) military women, and certainly not pilots. So it was I proceeded, intrigued, not in spite of, but owing to my inexperience with the main character Katya’s professional background.
What amazes me most about Runyan’s tale perhaps comes after, in her author’s note admission that she is neither a pilot nor expert on Russia, and her understanding and interest of the war is of a casual nature. Knowing that my own knowledge – far from expert, but still fairly wide – took years of reading, study and absorption to achieve, I completed the book thoroughly impressed by the amount of research she had to have done for the framework alone.
More surely must have come out of the author’s study from a sociological angle, specifically how the people who lived at the time, especially given this era follows the horrific purges of the 1930s, relate to one another. Some behavioral patterns would resonate nearly universally while others are more unique to their own communist society: riddled with mistrust, it was nevertheless ostensibly based on economic goals rather than the more militaristic ones of the Nazis, who taught race hatred while Stalin et al. outwardly preached progressivism.
Runyan subtly but impeccably portrays these interactions between Russians from all walks of life, from Katya’s relationships with her misogynistic grade-school teacher and military commander to female colleagues learning their trade whilst simultaneously acclimating to the cultures, perceptions and unknown political ideologies of the rest of their female company. Her dialogue carries a heavy burden, given its necessary role of probing into the psyches of various characters as well as portraying its findings to readers. The author combines this with a deeper probing of Soviet society, the secrets characters choose to reveal to one another embedded within portraits of prose rather than mere descriptions, providing for readers a further reflection of the weight of words.
If this all sounds rather intense, it was. Yet Runyan manages her narrative with a deft hand, producing a highly readable tale with lots of the lighter moments that tend to punctuate life, even during war time. As Katya’s romance develops we are treated to wonderful descriptions of her suitor’s art, her own violin recitals and the depth of their value to her. This is very much in keeping with Russian tradition of performance, visual and other arts, and not all that unusual given post-war recollections of Western front soldiers writing poetry in foxholes or storing future novels’ first chapters in their uniform pockets.
As we learn more about the “Night Witches” and their bombing of German targets, Runyan continues to maintain her balance with realistic portrayal of Russian anger at the savaging of their nation and observations of Germans as sentient beings with hardships of their own. The deprivations Katya and others experience—whether in flight school or after, in the field and as wounded—is authentic and unpretentious, and we learn a great deal about ordinary systems as we emerge into precarious situations that test the mettle and sheer capabilities, loves and loyalties, and love of country of every person we encounter.
Though Daughters of the Night Sky might more accurately be categorized as historical romance, it is not difficult to see why it isn’t, for this would rob characters and the historical pilots of their accomplishments, even if their loyalties don’t align with ours. The history of Russian women during the Soviet period is fascinating, and readers commencing or continuing with Katya’s story, which brings so much more to bear than a romance, even if it is of a lifelong sort, are gifted an up-close account as it really may have occurred within the ranks of women trying to effect change as they fight a society at war with those beliefs and an enemy determined to destroy both.
Difficult to set down, Daughters of the Night Sky is a keeper, a treasure, a story that will inspire many to educate and challenge their own abilities, look back at others whose lives informed theirs, and revisit the people and histories that shaped who we are today.
About the Author:
Aimie K. Runyan writes to celebrate history’s unsung heroines. She is the author of two previous historical novels: Promised to the Crown and Duty to the Crown, and hard at work on novel #4. She is active as an educator and a speaker in the writing community and beyond. She lives in Colorado with her wonderful husband and two (usually) adorable children. To learn more about Aimie and her work, please visit her website, and see her also at Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.
Tour Schedule: Blog Stops
Book Review – 2 Kids and Tired Books
Book Review – MY NOVELSQUE LIFE
Guest Post – Let Them Read Books
Book Review – Locks, Hooks and Books
Book Spotlight – The Writing Desk
Book Review – The Maiden’s Court
Book Excerpt – A Bookaholic Swede
Interview – Just One More Chapter
Book Excerpt – A Literary Vacation
Book Review – before the second sleep
The author provided a copy of Daughters of the Night Sky in order to facilitate an honest review
It has been a pleasure to co-ordinate with Novel Expressions Blog Tours
and I look forward to more great reading and recommendations!