I'm a huge fan of Elizabeth Wein's books, both her more recent World War II historicals, and the Ancient Ethiopian books so I was so excited to read her latest, Black Dove White Raven, which is sort of a combination of the two.
Emilia and Teo have grown up together as siblings. Their mothers were best friends and flying partners in an act they called Black Dove White Raven. When a horrible freak accident caused a crash that kills Teo's mother, Em's mother works to move all of them to Ethiopia. It was Teo's mother's dream to have her son grow up in a place where the color of his skin would not matter the way it does in the US. But Ethiopia is not exactly a Utopia. There are complicated bonds of service. There is a war on the horizon as Italy seeks to conquer the still independent nation. Em, Teo, and their mother, Rhoda, find themselves caught in the middle of a war that may destroy their last remaining links as a family.
Like all of Wein's books, Black Dove White Raven has characters you feel for, a truly developed sense of place, and packs an emotional punch. Teo and Em have a great sibling bond and friendship that transcends any sort of blood ties. Em is the daring, bold, outgoing one. Teo is calm, reliable, patient. They mirror their mothers in so many ways. They are willing to go to great lengths for one another. Their story is heartbreaking in so many respects. They are so young for the hardships that are placed on them, the things they have to do, and the choices they have to make. I found myself frustrated with Rhoda a lot because, as much as I try not to judge other mothers, she pushed all my maternal buttons. That's probably due to how much I liked the Teo and Em, but man, did I want to throttle her on numerous occasions. Wein has such a talent for making you have feelings for all the characters in her books, and then using those feelings to paint a wide an nuanced picture of people, place, and history.
Ethiopia during the time had its share of problems. They weren't the same problems as the US, but there were plenty of opportunities for exploitation, corruption, and vice to occur. Wein doesn't shy away from depicting this. It is an intensely interesting story rich with detail. It tells a story of a time and place we in the west know little about and does it through the lives of people living ordinary life.
The one part of the book that was difficult for me was its format. The story is told through a packet Em has delivered to the Ethiopian Emperor of essays and flight logs. The story is told through them and as a device it didn't particularly work for me. Not like the journaling worked so well in Rose Under Fire. The details in both Em and Teo's essays and flight logs were just too much, and their voices often sounded too similar despite the very large differences in their personalities. Despite this, I was able to fall into reading it and ended up really enjoying myself. I don't know that any less of a talented author than Wein could have made this work for me on any level.
While not my favorite of Wein's books, it is still excellent and one of the finest books I've read yet this year. Because saying one of her books isn't as favored as the others, still puts it heads and shoulders above most everything else being written.
I read an ARC made available by the publisher, Disney-Hyperion, via NetGalley. Black Dove White Raven goes on sale March 31.