Review of Icarus and the Wing Builder, by Robert William Case
As a pilot, it’s difficult to give a fair review to a book about mankind’s first flying experience. As a friend to Icarus and the Wing Builder’s author, Robert Case, the task reaches impossible heights. Then again, I’m always up for a challenge, so here goes.
Icarus and the Wing Builder is a solid novel that resides in the historical fiction genre. In the prologue, Case mentions that the historical record, if it can be called that, of Icarus and Daedalus (the wing builder) is very lacking. In fact, it seems all we really know is that Daedalus built the wings, and then Icarus used what Charlie Hunnam’s arse-hole character in the film Cold Mountain aptly calls “the confidence of youth” to go and get himself killed. That’s it. (Of course that’s not it. Human flight is something that has always captivated the attention of nearly everyone. To prove this point, during pilot training, our instructors told the story of a few student pilots who crashed and died while having fun in a rental plane over a weekend, and then our instructors provided a home video that some random family took with an air of “look at that plane!” only moments before it slammed into the side of a cliff off camera. The lesson–there are old pilots and bold pilots, but no old and bold pilots. …Re-focusing then…)
Robert has a passion for Greece, a passion for history, and a passion for the plethora of imagery and lessons this unforgettable story has buried within it. As we all know, however, passion isn’t always enough. That’s what sets Case apart. He has already established himself as a credible speaker and storyteller, having been awarded as such by groups who award such things. Icarus and the Wing Builder (which is the first book of a trilogy he is calling The Minoan Trilogy) is the tasty treat created by this combination of passion and skill.
Sure, you could probably go your whole life without reading this book and not be too much the worse for it, but you would be worse. That’s because Case’s book is ultimately about hope. Hope, that pesky concept that just won’t go away no matter how hard we try to blot it out.
Why did Daedalus and Icarus want to fly? Robert would answer that question by asking, “Why did you first want to fly? Because you know you did.” And this fire that is so aptly illustrated by man’s dream to soar through the sky–this hope–needs constant tending.
Getting into specifics now, let’s bring ol’ Mark Twain into the picture. I am a big fan of James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales, to include the last published prequel The Deerslayer. Mark Twain was not. In fact, Twain wrote a hilarious review of Cooper in which he says Cooper violates eighteen of the “nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction.”* The first rule Cooper apparently violated, the one that is relevant to my eventual point here, is “that a tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.”* Ever since reading this criticism of Cooper I have kept an eye out for tales which neither accomplish anything, nor arrive anywhere. You can imagine as I was editing Icarus and the Wing Builder that I was anxious to discover how Robert’s story measured up. Let me be the first to say that Case’s tale definitely does not break this rule. The book is chocked full of action, and Case never strays too far from the main storyline. The storyline being, of course, Daedalus and Icarus find themselves paired together by a twist of fate and in need of an escape. Along the way they run into several great characters, to include Naucreta, a former courtesan to King Minos. Case uses this book to flex a variety of writing skills. He plays it safe over all, but clearly has a firm grasp on palpable settings and landscapes, authentic dialogues, and likable characters whose trials and tribulations reflect those each of us face to a lesser degree in our own lives.
In the end, Icarus and the Wing Builder is a page-turning account of the events that led up to and surrounded that first flight. It is entertaining, sometimes surprising, and always well-written. Read it. And then join me in waiting for the movie.
*Cooper, James F. The Deerslayer. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2005. Print.
Thoughtful commentary. I think I’d like to read it.