Title: Under the Hill: Dogfighters
Author: Alex Beecroft
Cover Artist: Lyn Taylor
Publisher: Self Published
Buy Link: Amazon.com
Genre: M/M fantasy
Length: Novel (217 pages)
Rating: 5+ stars out of 5, DIK
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: WOW! I thought Part 1 (Bomber’s Moon) was fantastic, and this is just as astounding—a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat ride to the end. Superb.
Fight a fire-breathing dragon with a wooden airplane? It’ll take a madman…
Under the Hill, Part 2
Kidnapped by the faerie queen, Ben is confronted with his own supernatural heritage, a royal family and a lover he doesn’t remember. His first instinct is to turn his back on them all and get back to Earth. Compared to this, Chris and his wacky cohorts seem almost… normal.
Back on Earth, Chris Gatrell is having trouble convincing the police that he didn’t do away with Ben and hide the body. Determined not to lose another sweetheart to the elves’ treachery, he presses his motley crew of ghost hunters to steal a Mosquito bomber…and prays the ghosts of his WWII crew will carry them through the portal to Ben’s rescue.
Meanwhile, Chris’s elf-trapped WWII love, Geoff, has a dragon and he’s not afraid to use it. If only he could be entirely sure which of the elf queens is the real enemy—the one whose army is poised to take back planet Earth for elf-kind.
In the cataclysmic battle to come, more than one lover—human and elf alike—may be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice.
Dogfighters is the second part of the duology Under The Hill; I reviewed the first part, Bomber’s Moon here if you missed it. For those of you who were waiting to read both parts together—you made the right decision!
I’m going to try to be extra-careful about not giving spoilers, because there are so many twists and turns and reversals and counterbalances within Dogfighters that to give away even one of those would impact on the others. Suffice it to say that all loose ends, even an incredibly minor one from the first book that I didn’t even realise was a loose end until this book, get tied up beautifully and neatly if not always happily—and even when there’s sadness, I can accept it because it’s all been foreshadowed and fated and that’s what the story needs.
Captured by the elf queen Oonagh as he and Princess Sumala try to make their escape from Faerie to the human world, Geoff ‘Flynn’ finds his soul splintered into two, with one piece riding within the mind of Kanath, Oonagh’s dragon. While this means that Geoff and Sumala can spy through Kanath’s vision and take a look at Oonagh’s defences and preparations for the coming war against the human world, it also means that their bodies are magically trapped and they have no way to free themselves.
Ben has also crossed over into Faerie, dragged from his car and pulled ‘under the hill’, where he’s rescued by a cold, beautiful male elf, Arran. Ben is confused by the sudden split in his mind—it’s like he’s two people, one human, the other Sidhe—and he’s horrified when Oonagh tells him that his real name is Karshni, crown prince of a neighbouring kingdom and Sumala’s brother. Karshni was exiled into the human world because of his ‘perverted’ relationship with Arran, but now Oonagh wants him as an ally—alongside Sumala and Geoff. Ben recognises Geoff as the spirit-man who tried to kill him previously… and he knows Geoff was Chris’s lover during WW2.
Meanwhile, Chris is arrested on suspicion of Ben’s murder and has to appeal to friends in very high places in order to buy himself the time necessary to launch a rescue mission. Aided and abetted by the members of the MPA, Chris steals a Mosquito fighter plane and takes to the skies, helped along by the ghosts of his former bomber crew. But will he be able to rescue Ben in time to stop the elf armies from invading the human world? And who is the real enemy, anyway? Sometimes it’s better to do your duty and trust in fate…
I literally devoured this book over the course of a few hours. Beautifully written with dense, lush prose that drags you right into the story, Dogfighters reveals truths and lies and moves at a cracking pace towards a huge and impressive finale. There’s laughs, there’s sadness, there’s enough emotion to sink a battleship (I’m not ashamed to admit that I had a tear in my eye when Chris’s ghostly WW2 companions came to join him on his final flight), there’s some truly head-spinning plotting, and the battle scenes are excellent with plenty of ‘OMG!’ edge-of-the-seat moments. Often when a book is moving towards a set-piece climax, the pacing goes off or the finale is too short or too long or something gets lost, but this one gathers everything together and places all the pieces perfectly like a game of chess.
A lot of the emotional themes of the duology are revealed within the first chapter of this book, and I’d go so far as to say that Geoff is the true heart of the story. While he and Sumala are riding within Kanath the dragon, they fly over ruined temples:
”My father said Oonagh’s people were once like ours,” Sumala offered gently. “Glad to make music and dance before the gods. But they lost their gods and we did not. It is a terrible thing, my father said, to be suddenly without the purpose for which you were made.”
This, for me, summarises the entirety of the two books. Every major character (and many of the minor characters) have lost, are in the process of losing, or are (re)discovering, their purpose, even if they’re not fully aware of it.
Some of this is obvious—Chris, for example, who’s literally out of time in every sense and who’s struggled to fit into ‘normal’ life; Ben, who in both of his realities has cultural issues with his homosexuality and with the status to which he’s been born; Geoff, who’s in the wrong reality and will crumble into dust if he returns to the human world yet is out of place in Faerie. Amongst the minor characters we have Stan, for example, the schoolboy computer/electronics whizz whose parents ignore his skills and suspect Chris’s interest as being something more sinister than friendly encouragement. There’s also Grace, the priest who has an unshakeable belief in God but less faith in the organised Church, who is friends with Chris yet disapproves of his homosexuality. I was delighted to see this issue, which was touched on in Bomber’s Moon, addressed in much greater depth in this book, and I felt it was done in a realistic way without either character compromising too much or losing anything.
A major theme is that of changing perceptions. Early on, Oonagh challenges Geoff’s perception of her by saying, “You fight for your freedom. I fight for survival” and she asks him if they’re really so different after all. Because the elves are not human, they behave differently and express themselves differently, and just because they’re different, it doesn’t mean they can’t be understood. Oonagh is a cold fish indeed but she is a Queen and must make decisions that a commoner cannot. The class divide in the scenes between Oonagh and Geoff, and Geoff and Sumala, are every bit as poignant and charged as a scene between, say, a Duchess and a stable boy in a historical romance. It’s not just a question of their positions of relative power, it’s that their experiences are so vast as to be almost unbridgeable—and in the case of this novel it’s made more complicated because of the difference between human and faerie.
Power takes away freedom, not only for the people ruled by a power such as a Queen, but the Queen herself is trapped by the responsibilities of her power and thus her freedom is also curtailed. Beecroft explores this issue in some depth and with a light hand, offering the reader enough for them to draw their own conclusions.
Following on from the changing of perception is the theme of prejudice, which again many of the characters display in one form or another. Some work through their prejudices; some don’t. I’ve already mentioned Grace, who I think could be compared/contrasted to Karshni’s father and his anger at Karshni’s forbidden relationship with Arran. Prejudice takes many forms but it can be overcome—or not—depending on the individual, the reasons for their beliefs, and the situation in which they find themselves.
As a whole, this duology makes for an absorbing, astonishing book. Is it perfect? No, of course not—there’s a couple of teeny-tiny things I questioned or would have liked to have seen expanded. Does it matter? Absolutely not. Even in my most nit-picky mood, I can see why Beecroft made the choices she did and why the focus was on one thing rather than the other—and that just makes me even more impressed.
There’s been some discussion recently about when an M/M book would cross over into the mainstream and open up the genre to a wider audience. If there is any justice in the world, Under The Hill: Bomber’s Moon & Dogfighters will be those books. I say again, I am not a fan of fantasy, but these books encapsulate so many genres and are so rich and nuanced that they go beyond the rigid confines of genre. They’re exquisite. Go forth and buy and read—I know I’ll be re-reading these in years to come.