Pairings Project: WE RULE THE NIGHT, by Claire Eliza Bartlett
TLDR; We Rule the Night is a gorgeous, slow-build story full of magic, unique tech, alt history, and most importantly characters that you can truly invest in and celebrate.
(Scroll down for a cocktail pairing.)
We Rule the Night is a book that took me off guard. I read the premise—Two girls use forbidden magic to fly and fight–for their country and for themselves —and expected some high-action, alt-history, fantasy romp. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was really a slow-build character study.
Bartlett took her inspiration from the Night Witches, a group of Soviet women aviators who beleaguered German Nazis under the cover of darkness in old, should-be-retired biplanes during World War II. The story follows the general premise: that women are asked to step into unique roles to help the war efforts, but they must do so at great challenge and peril to themselves. Then Bartlett steps it up, throwing in magic, shape-shifting spies, and a fascistic state that controls everything but what happens in the girls’ own heads.
In this book, girls from all walks of Elda, the Soviet-esque culture Bartlett creates, are forced together with a single mission: learn to fly magic-fueled planes and contribute to the war. Under the tutelage of a woman with her own dubious reputation, the girls must fight against their own misgivings about using forbidden magic, against the limitations of inferior tech, and against the prejudices of their own fellow soldiers, the boys in the neighboring regiment. While the book could fall into tropes of girl-power, friendship overcoming all, and the underdogs saving the day, it resists, instead gravitating toward intimate looks into the characters’ internal journeys as they navigate their trying circumstances.
I don’t want to get too into spoilers or the mechanics of the world-building, which are in themselves a reason to read this book (Seriously, y’all: living metal, shape-shifting secret police, technology meets magic, and more.) The historical references are also legion, and a fun bonus to the story.
But the reason to read We Rule the Night is the characters. Bartlett builds her story around two incredible girls. The two main characters are Revna and Linne, teenage girls who unlikely and uneasy partners in a war only one of them signed up for. Revna is a traitor’s daughter, always looking over her shoulder for agents of the government to find out exactly how much she disloyalty she harbors in her own heart. Linne is the general’s daughter, so determined to prove herself for her country that she signed up to fight as a boy. When the girls are forced to work together as the pilot and the gunner on an experimental project, they are forced to either reconcile their differences, or reckon with their own doubts about their identities, abilities, and loyalties.
They’re not the only characters to fall in love with. The secondary and tertiary characters are all masterfully written. From Tamara Zima, the girls’ commanding officer and the infamous lover of the leader of the Elda forces; to Katya, the feminine and, at times, frivolous girl, who is still a warrior, through and through; each of the characters is carefully realized with her own voice, fears, desires, strengths, and weaknesses. As you go through training and eventually war with these girls, you come to love and care for each of them, and the loss of any of them is felt more than you would expect.
This book tackles serious themes of loyalty, power, gender, and war, and yet for all its feeling of being great and big, it’s the smallest moments that make it an enjoyable read. When Linne tackles doubts in the corner of an illicit on-base bar, or Revna spends sleepless nights wondering if she can do the job she’s called to, that’s when you truly feel for these girls and immerse yourself in their story.
I was left with a longing, though, when I got to the end. I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t convinced their story was done, or that I wanted something to happen that just didn’t (vague, I know, but trying to avoid spoilers). It’s possible that longing is what contributes to my appreciation of the book. That it engendered such attachment to the characters that I wasn’t ready to let them go. Or it may be that I was frustrated by unrealized potential. I am more than open to a sequel, but I think I’m okay with living with that longing, too. It feels appropriate with this cold and unflinching novel.
Still, maybe there will be a sequel with Tamara Zima as the main character? A girl can dream.
Moscow Mule seemed like an obvious choice for this Russian-inspired fantasy. Or a white Russian. Neither works for the elements of this story, and felt a little flippant given the war setting.
Still, I did want to go with a vodka cocktail. Preferably one that seemed inspired by the well-developed characters of the story. While Linne and Revna both would have gone with straight liquor offered on base, being no-nonsense girls in their very different ways, I thought it might be fun to make a drink inspired by one of the secondary characters.
I ultimately went with a drink that Katya, one of the original fly-girls would have loved. It’s strong, not too sweet, but topped with champagne and sass. Plus it’s a take on the French 75 which is my own signature cocktail.
Icelandic Pear 75
1.5 oz vodka
.5 oz lemon juice
.25 oz simple syrup
2 oz pear juice
Champagne to top
Combine all ingredients in shaker except champagne. Shake, serve in coup, top with champagne, add a twist of lemon for garnish.