Firebird by Elizabeth Wein

Nastia is a fearless pilot, the daughter of revolutionaries and now as the Second World War envelops Russia she must fight to protect her beloved country from the invading German army. Nastia is determined to fly a fighter-plane but instead she is sent to train new pilots alongside the Chief from her flying school. When the battles begin secrets are revealed and this forces Nastia to question all that she has known and believed.

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The story opens with Nastia appearing at a tribunal declaring her innocence having been accused of being a traitor and the build up to this event is then told in flashback form. From the opening pages we are made aware that Nastia has had an unusual upbringing. Within a few chapters I was drawn to her as the mix of bravery, loyalty and impulsiveness is appealing. Both Nastia and Chief are extremely strong female role models and as the story progresses their bond strengthens. Wein gradually builds up the tension to a very exciting climax and this is an extremely satisfying read.

This latest book by Carnegie shortlisted author, Elizabeth Wein, is clearly well researched and like all the very best historical fiction it blends accurate historical detail with a well written narrative. The author has cleverly combined two periods of Russian history, the women pilots of The Second World War and the revolution which saw the downfall of Tsar Nicholas and the Romanovs. The links between these two events and the way in which Elizabeth Wein incorporates a “what if” scenario ensures that this is a gripping read. I knew very little about these female pilots and this book whetted my appetite to find out more and the author’s notes at the end of the story provide interesting historical background and further information. I think that teenage readers would also find these details interesting, particularly as Nastia is such an engaging and inspirational character.

I continue to be impressed by the range of books published by Barrington Stoke. This title is aimed at a teenage readership but written in an accessible style both in vocabulary, presentation and length without ever detracting from the quality of the writing. Firebird would be suitable for dyslexic or reluctant readers with a reading age of about 8 plus. This book would be a welcome addition to secondary school library shelves. An exciting and enjoyable read that can be bought in your local bookshop or online

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