Sunday, January 6, 2013
Skybound by Aleksandr Voinov
Author: Aleksandr Voinov
Cover Artist: Jordan Taylor
Publisher: Riptide Press
Genre: historical, World War II
Length: 13,300 words/44 pages
Germany, 1945. The Third Reich is on its knees as Allied forces bomb Berlin to break the last resistance. Yet on an airfield near Berlin, the battle is far from over for a young mechanic, Felix, who’s attached to a squadron of fighter pilots. He’s especially attached to fighter ace Baldur Vogt, a man he admires and secretly loves. But there’s no room for love at the end of the world, never mind in Nazi Germany.
When Baldur narrowly cheats death, Felix pulls him from his plane, and the pilot makes his riskiest move yet. He takes a few days’ leave to recover, and he takes Felix with him. Away from the pressures of the airfield, their bond deepens, and Baldur shows Felix the kind of brotherhood he’d only ever dreamed of before.
But there’s no escaping the war, and when they return, Baldur joins the fray again in the skies over Berlin. As the Allies close in on the airfield where Felix waits for his lover, Baldur must face the truth that he is no longer the only one in mortal danger.
The viewpoint and setting of Skybound is truly startling: the losing side of a desperate war is bleak ground for a love story, yet here it is.
Baldur, a pilot of such skill as to make him royalty to his fellows, takes chances in the sky and on the ground. He's an ace among aces, and Felix might love him or merely have a bad case of hero-worship. Baldur is the one bright spot for Felix in this war—he rebuilds tattered planes enough to fly again, but the growing despair of the war is sapping him badly.
One air battle proves nearly fatal for Baldur and Felix is the one to rescue him. Felix would walk through fire for Baldur, and is overcome to be chosen as companion for the few days the war effort can spare the pilot to recover. Both anxious and hopeful, Felix isn't sure what the few days of solitude will bring, and even when they return to the airfield, it isn't entirely clear how deeply Baldur is invested. Sentiments like “I love you” have no place in this war, but the chances Baldur runs to be with Felix speak loudly.
The clues to what happiness they might find in the end are scattered cleverly though the text, but it is a mixed happiness, the best they could hope for. The tone of the story recalls parts of All Quiet on the Western Front, where ending the day with all arms and legs had to be accounted a triumph. Desperation drives Felix, both for the war and for Baldur.
The author has gone to great lengths to provide solid research and a vivid sense of time and place, not only at the airfield and in battle but in the village where they take their leave. Knowing how this war ends provides a special poignancy to the small comforts they can take. Even the characters' names add to the atmosphere: Baldur, named for a god whose death presaged Ragnarok, and Felix, the one small bit of happiness.
With all this care taken, it was a jolt to repeatedly encounter a term translated literally from the German that means something entirely different and unrelated in English, and which wasn't explained until nearly the end. The reorienting needed to get back into the story after each use took away from the total submersion of reading. Even so, I would give this short, unusual tale 4.5 marbles