Black Dove, White Raven – a review

After choosing Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity as my top read in 2018, I have read – well, listened to two more of her novels on Audible. I was not disappointed.

After listening to The Pearl Thief, I moved on to another Elizabeth Wein novel – historical but not a mystery in the strict sense. I’m also reading her non-fiction account of Russian airwomen in WWII – A Thousand Sisters.

But let’s head to Ethiopia.

Black Dove, White Raven

By Elizabeth E. Wein

A story of survival, subterfuge, espionage, and identity.

Emilia and Teo’s lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo’s mother died immediately, but Em’s survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother’s wishes—in a place where he won’t be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat.

Seeking a home where her children won’t be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

In the tradition of her award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein brings us another thrilling and deeply affecting novel that explores the bonds of friendship, the resilience of young pilots, and the strength of the human spirit.

Review 4.4 stars

After I was bowled over by the brilliance of Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, I had to read another of Wein’s novels – and was not disappointed. Black Dove, White Raven was another enjoyable tale, sympathetically narrated by Lauren Saunders and Maanuv Thiara.

Flying is a major thread to the novel and the author captures that – not surprising for a writer with a private pilot’s licence; and I’m already engrossed in her non-fiction book about Soviet airwomen in WWII.

However, at the heart of the story is the unfolding lives of best friends, Em and Teo brought up together after Teo’s mother Delia dies when the plane their stunt pilot mothers – Black Dove & White Raven – were flying crashes. Em’s mother Rhoda survives and takes the children to Ethiopia away from the prejudice of 1930s America. Delia dreamt of going to the country as Teo’s late father was from there.

Weing vividly portrays the attitudes towards a white woman with her own white daughter and an adopted black son in the USA and in Ethiopia. The latter might seem more accepting but has other issues being addressed – an added challenge for Rhoda and Em’s Quaker upbringing – and the reader is confronted with these through the eyes of the kids as they become teens.

The children adopt their mother’s stunt names for the characters in the stories they create. These fantasy tales become the basis of their diaries which form the structure of the novel, alternating from Em to Teo and back. When they start to fly as passengers then pilots, the POVs take on the form of flight logs as well as diary entries. But they are never dry, instead each adds to the characterisation of the siblings.

Wein cleverly weaves other details into these accounts, so the reader/listener learns about Ethiopia as Rhoda and her family do. I knew a bit about the country and its history, but this novel added to my knowledge – the author does comprehensive research for her novels.

Alongside Em and Teo, the reader is given a complex portrait of Rhoda, who must adapt to raising her late friend’s son alongside her daughter in a new country with fresh challenges. Rhoda is forced to juggle everything to keep the family together and safe. The supporting characters, from the Ethiopians on the coffee farm and in the towns to the Italians like Em’s father, are well portrayed.

While Em discovers her background early in her life, she doesn’t meet her Italian father until she is older. Teo is also confronted with his Ethiopian parentage as the family unravels the mystery of the country – and the ties to the man his uncle works for. This discovery adds tension and intrigue that keeps the tale moving. Although Teo finds some resolution, the ending left me wanting more answered.

But this is the brink of the Second World War, so everything is becoming uncertain. Perhaps there will be a sequel with Em and Teo.

Ethiopia was one of the tragic prequels to WWII. Everyone is becoming aware of the Italian military on the borders. Mussolini has ambitions. Fascism is on the rise and war seems inevitable. This impacts on the lives of Rhoda, the teens and the people around them.

Which side will Rhoda choose? Has she a choice? Can the under-dogs soar above the war? The author paints a contrast between the relative idylls of the early years in Ethiopia and the country and lives torn about by the conflict. However, relative idylls as there are hints and future tensions in those quieter years.

Black Dove, White Raven was not up there with Code Name Verity as there are moments where the tension dips, and the tale drags. In part perhaps because of the diary approach, in part from having two calendars – the Gregorian and the Ethiopian one – for every chapter, and from the extended timeline – linear and tied to real events. And the ending left unanswered questions.

But still this earns four stars and was a good listen. On to another engrossing Wein book.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – four stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – four stars

8 thoughts on “Black Dove, White Raven – a review

    • I had an inkling of the Russian women pilots but learned more after reading another book in my review-backlog. In fact, I’ve read two novels with Russian pilots before the non-fiction book.

      Like

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