Reviews /

Stateless

Authored by Elizabeth Wein
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

Stateless is a compelling aviation crime thriller set in the time preceding WW2.

It is 1937 and there is an air race for young pilots just about to take off. The race has been organised to promote peace through sport amongst the European nations. This is in the context of the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy as well as ongoing Spanish Civil War. There are twelve pilots including Stella North who is representing Great Britain. She is the only female pilot. What the other pilots don’t know is that Stella is a refugee as her family fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution. She is stateless and travelling on a Nansen Passport.

The race has seven stages, starting in Salisbury and ending in Paris, via Brussels, Geneva, Venice, Prague, Hamburg and Amsterdam. Frighteningly, on the first leg, the Italian pilot is killed and Stella witnesses the incident in her plane. We now have a murder mystery on our hands. As the race progresses revelations about all the rest of the pilots, and their chaperones, emerge continually. Greater insight into the background and motivations of the characters occurs. But is one of them guilty of murder?

Stateless is a fascinating and exciting young adult novel. The historical context is well described, contrasting the violence of the rise of fascism (and the atrocities of the Spanish civil war, particularly the bombing of Guernica) with the peaceful intentions of the air race. The details concerning aviation in the 1930s seem completely credible to this non-specialist reader too.

Stella and Tony (the French representative in the race) are engaging characters who find they have more in common than was initially apparent. Tony, alongside Stella, becomes central to the story’s momentum and outcome. Perhaps they could both star in sequels!

Stateless is a page-turner of a novel with some resonances with the current situation in Europe, namely the rise of authoritarian right-wing regimes who have little regard for human life. Recommended.

Longlisted for the Young Quills Award 2024 For Readers Aged 14+ Years Category