I bought this book on a whim some time ago, and am glad that I did. I was so confident that I would enjoy the books that I bought another before I had even read the first. I really knew nothing about Biggles before I read the book, only that he was a pilot and that he was pretty much a by word for anyone wearing a flying helmet.
I wasn’t sure what I was expecting when I started reading – perhaps something far lighter and jolly than I got. Of course, there were funny moments but there were far more moments of darkness than I was expecting.
The story was told in a very episodic way, every chapter seemed to involve a new mission or patrol that always, always, always ended in a dogfight, crash or other general disaster. I did read somewhere that this book was made up of several short stories organised into a longer narrative, but I’m not sure how true that is. The fact that Biggles and Mark (more on him later) got stuck behind enemy lines twice in the space of about four chapters might be because of this reason, or because Johns liked getting Biggles into scrapes.
As for the characters, I thought Biggles was a great character and I had a lot of my misconceptions about what he would be like shattered. In this book at least, he is not a stiff upper lip, derring do pilot, risking life and limb. He is a young man, barely out of school who just happens to be good at flying. He finds the life of being a pilot fun until he sees one of his comrades killed for the first time. This plot device is used so much now, but it is still very truthful, many people think they are indestructible until they see death in front of them.
I also really loved Biggles’ observer, the New Zealander Mark Way. I thought they bounced off each other really well and was slightly gutted when Johns split them off to send Biggles off to a fighter squadron and then even more gutted when, without trying to spoil anything, Johns gave Mark a slightly graver fate.
All in all, I really enjoyed the book and can’t wait to get onto the next one!