The Battle of Britain

Battle of Britain

Author: James Holland

Publication: 2012, Puffin

Pages: 331

Overall Rating:  bth_35_zps7a173504[1]                      

Rating for Action: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action: bth_3-star-rating_zps73bdba73[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Archie Jackson is a young fighter pilot flying with the RAF at the start of World War II.  Nazi Germany is on the move.  They’ve already occupied most of continental Europe and driven through France in a blitzkrieg attack.  Now they only thing stopping them from crossing the channel and invading Britain is Archie and his fellow pilots in the RAF.

Age of Main Character: 19

What I Liked the Most: Holland is spot on with all the period details that make it feel like you’re living and breathing Great Britain at the outset of World War II.  And it’s clear that he knows his way around the RAF and most especially around a Spitfire, the plane at Archie and his fellow pilots fly into combat.  He provided just enough background that I could figure out what the Germans were up to and where Archie’s combat sorties fit into the larger picture of the war.  But the main attention was clearly on Archie and the squadrons he flew with – the battles, the friendships, the fear, and the long periods of boredom and uncertainty in between.

What I Liked the Least: While I loved Holland’s focus on the fighter squadrons, I did feel like he included a few too many dogfights in the book.  Don’t get me wrong, each one was tense and masterfully done.  And I’m certainly not saying there was too much action – I don’t think I’ve ever said that about a book.  But ALL the action is in some basic sense the same – a dogfight – and after the fourth or fifth one it started to feel a bit repetitive.  Holland could have benefited from cutting out a few of the early dogfights so that the major ones that occur later in the book would have more impact.

My only other real issue with the book is that the first third of the novel gets somewhat bogged down in extended flashbacks telling the story of how Archie became a fighter pilot.  It slows the action a lot, and it felt like most of the basic information could have been conveyed in a few pages.

How Good was the Action? Fantastic.  Even though Holland does include a few too many dogfights, the action in each one is intense and unique.  It moves as fast as the Spitfire Archie flies, and is so well done you can almost feel the g-force as his plane goes into a roll and hear the roar of the browning machine guns chewing up a German plane.

How Engaging was the Story?  While the dogfights and the air war are obviously central to the story, Holland does a great job of drawing you into other parts of Archie’s life – the ups and downs of his friendship with a fellow pilot named Ted, his tentative romance, and his relationships with his CO and the other members of his squadron.  You get a real feel for the day-to-day life of a World War II fighter pilot, get into Archie’s fears, his alternating sense of fatalism and exhilaration, the boredom of sitting in the dispersal hut all day waiting for something to happen contrasted with the intense fear and adrenaline of being scrambled to stop an enemy raid.

Overall Assessment: This may be an historical novel, but don’t for one second let that make you think it’s going to be dry and dusty.  This is a war novel, and the war in all its terror, violence, adrenaline, and uncertainty stands front and center.

Profanity: None

Sex: A few chaste kisses, but nothing more.

Violence: Some, but perhaps less than you’d expect for a war novel since most of the fighting is machine against machine.  Archie dodges tracer fire and shoots down other planes.  But intense as that can be, it’s easy to forget that it involves real lives and real violence.  Holland recognizes that, of course, and does a great job bringing us back to reality in one dog fight when Archie blows up a German plane at such close range that the pilot’s body splatters across his windshield.  It’s not as gory as it sounds, but it does help remind us that the violence happening in these dogfights is real.

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