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

Followers to Flyers: discovering what works

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This is my contribution to the first ever Online Marketing Symposium!

One month into my debut novel release and the word success is not on my lips, yet. But I remain optimistic because there are still promotions in the pipeline. ‘Spiral of Hooves’ was released on December 9th with an online party on Facebook, which was well attended. However, there was a slight delay, of a few hours, with the book appearing on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Since then it has been promoted to my followers and friends in a low key way on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and here. But I have not spammed cyber-space. Apologies if I have been in your faces for the last few weeks. I still need to learn the secret of keeping my followers happy. Treats?

The most useful marketing tools, so far, have been the two five star reviews that have appeared on Amazon. One has even been re-used, by the reviewer, to garner additional coverage on Facebook and an online equestrian site. There are some other reviews in the wings as the novel went out to some of my journalist friends, contacts from when I covered equestrian sports. As the novel is a thriller set against the sport of eventing, the forthcoming coverage in the sports main UK magazine, Eventing, could be key to the spring campaign. Use your contacts but don’t lose their friendship.

Cover credit: Danielle Sands

Cover credit: Danielle Sands

I have also sent the novel to some rider friends, including an Olympic rider, in order to get some useful quotes, and to spread the good news about the book being out. As one journalist friend said, ‘getting the word out in the lorry park will boost sales”. With that end I intend to produce some A5 flyers quoting the reviews and the name riders, and linking to my website and where to purchase a copy. Unable to hand these out at shows myself, being wheelchair-bound, I have some good friends that will get them in the right places. Despite being stumped from pressing the flesh in person, flyers might help spread the word at the grassroots. I have no previous experience of using flyers to promote books, so I will be interested to see the results for ‘Spiral of Hooves’. Later today I will check out the other blogs and see how others have fared with similar marketing techniques.

However, when I was in the film industry we used flyers quite often, although these were usually A4 glossy hand-outs that we used at film and TV conventions, including Cannes. We attracted interest, but not as much as we needed to fund a movie. Some were used for selling short films but it is hard to say how successful the leaflets were. All the sales were via a Distributor so our production company was last in line, having paid everybody else. Flyers do work for some producers and, from my observations, it was the hook plus pitch, the cover and elements like cast that were key selling points. But the flyers mustn’t have too much information. And that has to apply with book flyers as well. What are your thoughts on flyers? No better than random advertising? Destined for the recycle bin? Another useful tool in spreading the word?

For links to other participating Blogs and information on the first ever Online Marketing Symposium! please visit here.

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