Book Reviews DNF Books Joint Review

Joint DNF: Night Witches by L.J. Adlington

Night WitchesTitle: Night Witches

Author: L.J. Adlington

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books
Publication Date: September 2013
Paperback: 336 Pages

A supernatural thriller-romance set in an all-girl teenage bomber-pilot regiment, combining witchcraft and legend.


Rain Aranoza is a teenage bomber-pilot from Rodina, a nation of science and fact ruled by the all knowing Aura, where the belief in witches or any type of superstition is outlawed. Rain’s regiment is made up of only teenage girls and their role is vital to the war effort against the Crux, a nation of faith and belief, where nature and God are celebrated and worshipped.

But Rain is struggling with another battle. She’s always had a sense that her nature is different from everyone else’s, and that a dormant power threatens to burst out of her.

When she encounters a young Scrutiner she falls in love with him, but is torn between what she has been taught is right, and what feels right. As her understanding of her latent power grows, the enemy threatens both her friends and her love. She can no longer ignore the power but she must choose how she uses it …

But what will she lose in the process?

Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel

How did we get this book: Bought

Format (e- or p-): Print book

Why did we read this book: We stumbled across this book at Foyles a few months back (the last time both Smugglers were together!). Both of us were smitten with the gorgeous cover art, and when we read that this book inspired by the female Russian fighter pilots of World War I, we were instantly hooked.


Ana’s Take:

I couldn’t finish this book.

Night Witches is set in a dichotomous, dystopian world where the inhabitants of Rodina, among them the protagonist Rain, are all interconnected via Aura (a sort-of-like AI), in an ostensibly egalitarian society that has outlawed any and all superstitions. When the neighbouring nation Crux attacks, the Rodinans know (as Aura tells them), that it’s only a matter of time until Rodina will crush their enemies. Except things are not as easy as that.

There is no such thing as witches, they say. We are one of many, they say. Be normal, do not outstand or outperform – you are not good for anything, they tell Rain. Those are facts, accepted as a matter of course. But of course – as per Dystopian Rule #1 – Rain is not like everybody else. Because she is extraordinarily good at flying the planes (a “natural”) and she is developing powers, weird powers that might prove a danger for her and others. Perhaps, she is even….a witch (but there is no such thing as witches!).

Inspired by the amazing real-life Night Witches – an all-women Russian regiment of night-bombers military aviators during World War II (someone please tell THIS story) – Night Witches tells the story of a (mostly) female regiment of teenage bomber-pilots in the war between Rodina, a nation of SCIENCE AND FACTS! against Crux, a nation of RELIGION AND FAITH!

There might be a good book in here somewhere. There is an artificially structured world that is bound to create friction among citizens and eventually break down (as per Dystopian Rule #2) and written well, this premise can go to interesting places. Teenage bomber pilots fighting at night (because they have night vision, whereas adults don’t) and girls kicking-ass are always a welcome plus. It’s a shame that the execution of that premise leaves a lot to be desired. It’s hard to take the world seriously when the fracture between nations is so heavy-handed (Science! Vs Faith!). It’s also a shame that even though we have this fabulous premise of a mostly female regiment of bomber-pilots, instead of concentrating in developing the friendship between the ladies, we have a much stronger focus on the protagonist’s insta-attraction for a guy named Reef.

All that said, it is actually the writing and the cheesiness that did not agree with me at all.

A narrative in first person present tense needs to be super well-done in order to make it work and above all, the internal monologue needs to read as natural. In here, the writing is jarring and full of exclamation marks that make the text unintentionally funny and not in a good way. Here are a few snippets:

We pick up speed….lift off the ground….wheels bump once, higher now – we’re off….We’re actually airborne! This crazy contraption works!

What an amazing sensation, to be rising up like the morning sun, with on our faces and lungs full of fresh, cold air!

Me, I am terrified. There’s no way I am leaving land. I don’t care if traptions are gobbling mud, or witches even, whooshing through the clouds on black-feathered wings. Let them come! I won’t cross that seething water!

Enough, enough! I don’t want to know these futures! I don’t want this torrent of life and death!

But it’s not until extreme cheese meets exclamation marks that I decide that I too, have had enough (enough!):

My hand moves up his arm, just grazing the sleeve, then my fingertips touch his chest. His muscles are hard under the smooth weave of his white tunic. Mesmerised, I spread my fingers so my palm is right over his heart. It beats very quickly. I’m rigid with fear in case we touch skin and I see some nasty death-scene – Reef blown to pieces by a traption gun, Reef devoured by carnivorous trees, Reef in hospital hooked up to machines, Reef all white-haired and shrivelled at the very end of being old. His heart mustn’t stop beating! He must stay alive and beautiful, whatever it takes!

We breathe. We breathe. And we breathe.

I stopped reading right there (page 158).

Thea’s Take:

Everything that Ana just said. Seriously. It’s time to dust off this guy:

Double Facepalm (Star Trek TNG)

I really, really wanted to like this book. The cover is amazing, the premise sounds fantastic, and I really want to learn more about the actual Russian Night Witches. The core setup of the book, steeped in a magic versus science dystopian-type world, with an ongoing war, and technology that conjures Hayao Miyazaki-style Howl’s Moving Castle type imagery is 100% up my reading alley.

Unfortunately… Night Witches has problems. A whole lotta problems.

The writing style is stunted and awkward; like Ana, I was not a big fan of the multiple exclamation points and excessive amounts of cheese. First person present tense is rough at the best of times (I think I’ve read a total of two books that have done this particular point of view successfully), and, when compounded by the plentiful worldbuilding/SFF element issues, things aren’t pretty. Ana points out some great quote examples above, but my particular last straw came at the approximate 35th iteration of this sentiment (regarding the difference between the Crux and the Rodina):

“Why have they even got that far?” Lida asks, speaking for all of us. “The Crux are just superstitious fanatics. Rodina has superior technology and more disciplined ground forces.”

Several pages later:

“They shouldn’t be winning!” says Fenlon, bursting in on us one day. “We absolutely outgun and out-tech them and they’re all just homicidal religious junkies. I’d feel sorry for them coming up against our armed forces if it wasn’t for the fact that they keep churning out more troops and traptions.”

And so on and so forth. The repetition across characters of SUPERIOR TECHNOLOGY versus RELIGIOUS FANATICISM is incredibly grating on one’s nerves.

Also, I know Ana mentions it above but I would like to reiterate my disbelief at these particular lines:

His heart mustn’t stop beating! He must stay alive and beautiful, whatever it takes! We breathe. We breathe. And we breathe.

This is a real passage in a real, final book.

Beyond the issues with writing style, and inverse of Ana, my biggest issues with the book concerned the hodgepodge worldbuilding and simplistic reduction of SCIENCE v MAGIC. The superior realm of technology is unimaginative and presumptuous, meanwhile the realm of magic is superstitious and so, like, in touch with the world. BAH. The worst kinds of speculative fiction worlds resort to the most simplistic of reductions – Night Witches is excessively guilty of this crime. How does one get around this type of dichotomy in a poorly written YA dystopia? Why, you Romeo and Juliet the crap outta it! And… well… you know how it plays out from there, right?

I put the book down at page 136 and called it a day.


Ana: DNF – Did Not Finish

Thea: DNF – Did Not Finish

Buy the Book:

(click on the links to purchase)

Book Depository UK amazon_uk

Ebook available for kindle UK, kobo & iBooks


  • Gabi
    August 12, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    An exclamation mark has to be earned! Otherwise, it is amateurish and uncomfortable to read! I don’t think I’d get further than you ladies in this book!

    Sorry. I had to.

  • Sara
    August 13, 2014 at 6:11 am

    Hi! For all female Russian fighter pilots in WWII check out Carrie Vaughan’s story in the Dangerous Woman anthology Raisa Stepanova. It was excellent–wish it was a full length novel!!!

  • Heather
    August 13, 2014 at 8:24 am

    Yikes, it’s painful just to read your excerpts from this book, I can’t imagine reading 100+ pages of it.

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