Frankie Norris has always wanted to fly, but living on a sheep ranch keeps him solidly grounded. There is a world war raging and joining the Army Air Forces seems the perfect opportunity to show his patriotism and achieve his dream. For Frankie, the long hours of lecture, calisthenics, and pilot training are nothing compared to the joy and freedom of finally reaching the skies. Yet as he works to earn his wings, he must confront his growing attraction to Jim Morrow, his ground chief.
Jim loves his planes. And they are his, regardless of what the pilots may think. He knows his machines inside and out and keeps them flying under tough conditions. When he meets Frankie, he sees another young fool who will likely either get himself killed or bring his plane back in pieces. But once the two men stop sniping at one another and start talking, they realize they share more than just a fondness for planes.
As the squadron completes its training and they transfer to the European theater, Jim and Frankie find time together whenever they can, but theirs is a world full of constant danger. As Frankie struggles to cope with the realities of war and the ever-increasing awareness of his own mortality, he and Jim must decide if they can risk considering a future together and if what they have is strong enough to last.
I’m rarely so conflicted by a book as I was by Untethered. It drew me in and left me bored by equal measure. Once I finished the novel, I felt conflicted and several days of reflection have failed to resolve that feeling. Let’s start with the good stuff. I have a degree in history, so when an author makes even a casual attempt to incorporate actual history into their work, I’m always appreciative. R.A. Thorn has given more than a casual attempt (there is even a bibliography – insert squeal of joy) and the historical details are smoothly incorporated into the wider narrative. There are no big info dumps and the essence of the era is so well captured, the reader is drawn in almost without realizing it. Additionally, Frankie’s love of flying and his emotional connection to it are wonderfully portrayed. Untethered allows the reader to fully experience his joy once he finally climbs into the cockpit and the dogfight scenes have a thrilling tension to them that let me feel connected to the action.
Unfortunately the rest of Untethered failed to grab my interest. Despite feeling immersed in the historical aspects, I was often bored by the story itself. The first half of the book was slow going, with events taking place as a matter of rote rather than part of a fuller narrative. The second half picks up and has some strong moments, but the end is rushed and almost feels like an afterthought. I never really connected to either Frankie or Jim, with each of them feeling like a rough draft instead of a finished character. Aside from when he is in the air, Frankie seems emotionally distant and incapable of deeper introspection, like an unused marionette that is only occasionally brought to life. Jim is even less dimensional and when he and Frankie are together, their interactions, both in and out of the bedroom, are mechanical rather than feeling like the result of two men deeply in love. Because I never connected with the protagonists, I found myself occasionally struggling to finish the book.
Given these detriments, you might think me disinclined to recommend Untethered. But I actually believe this is a decent book that simply didn’t work for me. There are problems here, especially with pacing, but the plot is solid, the history engaging, and I think a lot of people will connect to Jim and Frankie in ways that I couldn’t. So, if you’re a fan of historical fiction and enjoy military themes, you might want to give this one a try.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.