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Tom Slade with the Flying Corps/Captain Blood Day 2017

September 19, 2017

Look, I know it’s Captain Blood Day, and really I should be posting about a Sabatini book, but…I think Sabatini would mostly approve of Tom Slade, seeing as many of his heroes are also a) cripplingly honorable and b) super awkward. Anyway, Happy Captain Blood Day! May we all be as ready with a good comeback as Peter Blood.

Tom Slade with the Flying Corps is, honestly, kind of amazing. It’s not perfect, but it’s clever and unexpected: a mostly-successful experiment.

This is…a book worth going into unspoiled. And I’m not sure how to talk about it without ruining it. It begins with some news about Tom reaching the US, and the town of Bridgeboro. The narrator, usually a standard omniscient third person, is a specific character here: an unnamed journalist from Bridgeboro who is about to go overseas. Before he goes, he talks to Roy Blakeley and promises to look out for information about Tom. What follows is his account of parts of his travels, plus a separate account that he writes to send to Roy.

Tom is always being misunderstood, but usually the reader knows exactly what really happened, and fumes a little on his behalf (I do, anyway). Here, though, the narrator is the one who misunderstands. He finds evidence that Tom has done something terrible, and spends the rest of the book talking about Tom to people who loved him and pretending he has the same respect for him, when he really views him with contempt. As a reader who’s read any of the rest of the series, you know Tom would never do the terrible thing in question, and of course he’ll be vindicated, but you don’t know how, and you don’t know what really happened.

It’s an interesting idea, and it’s executed…reasonably well. Fitzhugh makes it a little too easy to see where the narrator is going wrong, so there’s a lot more suspense for the narrator than for the reader. But on the whole, it’s smarter, grittier, and more interesting than your average kids’ series book. And yet…it’s not my favorite Tom Slade book. Tom’s mostly absent. Roy is mostly absent. You see a lot of Archibald Archer, who I find a little irritating. The narrator is a reasonably sympathetic character, but he feels like an intruder. I like Tom Slade with the Flying Corps a lot, but my feelings toward it are more impressed than with the average Tom Slade book, and just a little less warm.

A note on the text I’m linking to: there are a couple of pages missing at the very end, and I can’t find another copy online. I also don’t have my own copy of this one, so I can’t tell you what’s missing, but it’s part of the epilogue, so I don’t think it’s super important.

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