Once a Knight: A Novel of Aerial Combat & Romance in World War I
Author: Walt Shiel
Publisher: Slipdown Mountain Publications LLC (2010)
Binding: Paperback, 242 pages
World War I: Air combat is invented in the skies above the battlefield.
May 1917: America is gearing up to enter the brutal conflict, and the Sopwith Camel is entering combat service. Many individual Americans, however, have long since signed on to fight the war.
In 1916, Everett Ross quit the Texas Rangers and traveled to England to join the Royal Flying Corps, trading his horse for a Nieuport pursuit biplane. No stranger to violence and death, now-Lieutenant Ross duels with German pilots in the pristine skies above the grimy trenches where foot soldiers fight for victory foot by bloody foot.
Between dogfights, Ross loses his heart to a young French beauty whose domineering mother fights her own battle to protect Geneviéve from this American cowboy wearing a British uniform. Ross soon must decide between love and duty, between orders and necessity.
This fast-moving story combines romance and combat action in a land knocked out of kilter by a deadly war often seemingly without objectives.
As a pursuit pilot in the War to End All Wars, Ross struggles to maintain his own sense of honor and valor in the midst of chaos and death.
The combat sequences are told as only an experienced military pilot and historian can. Walt Shiel, long fascinated by the rapid evolution of aerial warfare in the First World War, has studied innumerable books and articles written by the men who flew and fought in the Great War. His understanding of aviation, combat tactics and their development brings the aerial scenes to vivid life. His knowledge of how those knights of the air lived, loved and died puts the reader in their flying boots and cockpits, complete with the emotions that drove them, the doubts that haunted them, the death that stalked them.
MWSA 2011 Bronze Medal for Fiction, Historical Event
Trading his horse for a Camel, Everett Ross left the Texas plains for the skies above trenches in Paris. As a volunteer with the Royal Flying Corps, Ross soon finds the realities of war, which include harrowing dogfights, the loss of comrades, and the dichotomy of combating a German ace one hour and romancing a French maiden the next.
When Walt Shiel introduces Ross in Once a Knight, the pilot is already cynical. He is clearly on top of his game as an aviator, but he has realized the futility of war. The only thing keeping him from total disgust with life is Geniviéve, who fortunately returns his affections.
Shiel quickly has the reader enthralled with detailed, yet fast paced flying of a style unknown to most today. One comes away sensing they now understand aerial combat whether in a Nieuport or a Sopwith Camel in the days of silk scarves and leather helmets. The combat is unique balanced with a love story that feels like many other courtships in classic literature, without coming off like a cliché. By the end, it is easy to cheer for the hero and leaves the reader hoping for a sequel.
Once a Knight is a great read that will fit well alongside The Razor’s Edge and A Farewell to Arms.
Reviewed by: Stephen Phillips (2011)