Rating: 3/5 stars
I haven’t read any work by Elizabeth Darrell before, so I had no prior expectations for this novel. It was nice to approach a work with a completely unbiased or unprepared mind.
This is a ‘historical’ novel, focusing on the life and work of Helicopter Squadron 646 throughout one year in the early 1990’s. (I’ve put historical is single quotation marks there because, as a 90’s baby, I’ve always understood historical to mean anything set pre-1990’s, and I can’t quite resolve myself yet to this new development) We see how new recruits, Dave Ashmore and Maggie Spencer, adjust to life with the team: we follow them on rescue missions in mountains, training exercises in deserts, as well as personal tragedies and obstacles.
I thought the plot was good, mostly engaging with many cliff-hangers or points of tension throughout. Some of these moments were genuinely shocking and unexpected, and Darrell evidently showed skill in characterisation because I was quite moved by the situations they found themselves in. It was also incredibly interesting to find out more about these ‘invisible’ aspects of life in Helicopter Squadrons – the rescue missions, the training exercises, and so on. This was definitely something that is highlighted in the narrative – that the work of these people, highly dangerous and requiring skill, courage and quick-thinking, go largely unrecognised by the general public, partly because such work doesn’t seem as interesting to media outlets.
Giving us snapshot-style insights into each character’s life and their perspective on events in each chapter was a good technique – it certainly allowed me to properly engage with and understand characters, their motivations and their flaws. Randal Price, I think, is a compelling flawed hero. He has a short fuse, especially where his wife is concerned, but he also cares deeply about his children, about his team, and about the work he does. The fate allotted to him is heart-wrenching, and I was genuinely moved by his struggle.
Some aspects, though, were a bit distracting – the pace was off in some parts of the story, so reading was rather slow, while the ending felt rushed. The resolutions to certain character strands could have been tighter and more detailed – some rather big conflicts seemed to resolve themselves too quickly for my liking.
I also think I was meant to empathise with one character in particular more than I actually did. While it could be simply my personal character preferences, I just couldn’t help thinking that this character was someone readers were being actively encouraged to really care about – we were meant to identify with their struggle against the odds, take their side in disagreements with family and colleagues – whereas I found them to be selfish and rather too defensive. I couldn’t engage with this character at all.
Overall, though, it was good. Randal Price really is a wonderful flawed hero, and the story itself, revealing the thrills and dangers of flying professionally, allows for a lot of dramatic tension to be built up in some places. It’s definitely worth a read.