4 of 5 stars.
The desperate Russian front in WWII doesn’t often receive due coverage, nor do the efforts by women despite the loyalty, bravery, and sacrifice being equal to that of the men. This tale rights a couple of these oversights with a close up look at a small group of female Russian pilots as they drop bombs on the advancing German troops with nothing more than doctored crop dusters.
The narrator find a wry humor in the Germans dubbing them “The Night Witches,” mostly because she’s the only true witch in the company. She explains the limits to the magic available to her [and any witch] in that she must give of herself for each spell until she’s spent. Tears for water magic. Breath for air magic. And blood for ash magic. Most of the ladies are wary of the witch, but she understands and appreciates them and they concede certain rites to her–such as the burning of their shorn braids so it can’t be used against them.
Before a particularly suicidal run of three lowly planes piloted by the narrator, her biggest advocate and another volunteer, the witch accepts her dismal fate but refuses to give up on her sister-friends. Using her own blood and the collected ash of her friend’s cigarette, she smears a mark of blood magic on the planes meant for the mission . . . .
The form of witchcraft shown in this tale reads as folklore rather fantasy. The earnestness is refreshing. Also, the depiction of this angle of WWII is fascinating.
This tale appears in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year, Volume 10 edited by Jonathan Strahan. I received this new anthology from Netgalley. I’ve previously read Valentine’s “Aberration”, “Abyssus Abyssum Invocat”, Dream Houses and “Keep Calm and Carillon”
[Check out my other reviews here.]