Historical fiction is a favorite genre, in part because it often gives new insight into a known era, but when it brings new knowledge, even better. As I like military fiction (sci fi or otherwise) and being a student of history, Daughters of the Night Sky appealed to me on several levels.
Author Aime K. Runyan does a fabulous job of bringing the exploits of the 588th Night Bomber Regiment to life. These women: pilots, navigators, mechanics, and armorers were collectively known as the “Night Witches” because they harried German troops under the cover of darkness. Their exploits would be remarkable due to the sexism rampant at the time, but that they were relegated to flying Polikarpov Po-2 planes, with wood and canvas bodies and open cockpits, made their jobs even more difficult. One of the characters refers to the planes as crop dusters, and indeed, these small aircraft seem a lot closer to than than true “bombers.” Their method of succeeding is astonishing, as they would cut the engine in their already low and slow aircraft, so there was little warning of their impending attacks. Once they had deployed their meagre payload (a maximum of six bombs) they re-ignited the engine and flew back to base to reload and attack once more. Some of the two women crews made as many as eighteen runs (sorties) in a single night.
Although highly fictionalized, with characters who might or might not be based on historical figures, the author makes every effort to get the details right, from the male uniforms, the hacked off military haircuts, and even the various stations where the regiment was based during its 1942-1945 deployment.
Daughters of the Night Sky is informative, suspenseful, and emotionally engaging. I read it in a single day, which is rare these days. Anyone who enjoys historical, military, or women’s fiction should really enjoy this novel.
For those who want to know more about the real 588th, here’s a good article published in Vanity Fair.