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The Legend of Lilia: A Novel Based on a True Story


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Every once in a while you come across a book that takes your breath away. 'The Legend of Lilia' is one of those books.

“For the crime of being her father’s daughter she was classified as a traitor. By her deeds in war, to the people she was a hero.”


Every once in a while you come across a book that takes your breath away. The Legend of Lilia is one of those books.


This is the exceptional “story about a story” of the world’s first female ace fighter pilot. Brimming with adventure, courage, history, tragedy, and a touch of romance, the book also chronicles the mystery swirling around the final fate of its protagonist, Lilia Litvyak. Because her father was classified as an “Enemy of the State” and executed during one of Stalin’s purges, Lilia was “erased from history” after she disappeared in the skies above the front in 1943. What happened before she was shot down and why is expertly explored in this gripping historical novel.


The Legend of Lilia is based on the true story of Lilia Vladimirovna Litvyak. It opens in 1936 Moscow. We soon learn that Lilia loves flying and earns her pilot’s license by age fifteen. World War II crashes into the story when the German Army smashes through the Soviet border in 1941. The Soviets lose over 2,000 airplanes on the first day of battle. So Stalin “authorized the formation of three air combat regiments to be comprised exclusively of female pilots.”

Lilia joins up. And a legend is born.


Across the frontline, “the war would be won or lost in the battle for air superiority, which would be settled by the fighter squadrons and the skills of their pilots on both sides of the line.” One of the most skilled and successful fighter pilots you’ve probably never heard of is Lilia “Seagull” Litvyak. An ace fighter pilot by age 21, Lilia was the most dangerous woman in the sky over the Eastern Front - until she was shot down in 1943. Nobody really knows what happened to her after that.


Nimble and engaging, this is the remarkable story of a remarkable woman and fighter ace. The writing is solid, detailing aerial dog fights, ground crews, and battle scenes with precision and accuracy. The author’s command of the subject matter is impressive. So is his skill in bringing history to life and filling it with vivid color, action, and intensity. Expertly woven into the text is the story-within-a-story of the massive graft, fraud, and corruption that was the Soviet Union. How its duplicity and mendacity impacted the life of one female fighter pilot, her family, and history is also detailed.


Meticulously researched and briskly paced, The Legend of Lilia is a little Twelve O’clock High and a little Top Gun. It’s thoroughly engrossing. Indeed, this finely crafted historical novel will appeal to military history buffs and anyone who enjoys a well-told story. It merits a wide audience.


I didn’t necessarily expect a five-star read to be tucked into the pages of The Legend of Lilia. But it is. In spades.


A monument to Lilia Litvyak stands in a small coal mining town in what is now the Ukraine.


Reviewed by

Lifelong bibliophile. Library Board Member. Select book reviews featured on my blog, Goodreads, and Amazon. I'm a frank but fair reviewer, averaging 400+ books/year in a Wide Variety of genres on multiple platforms. Over 940 published reviews.

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About the author

Christopher P. Redwine is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, a graduate of Bates College in Maine, and the grandson of a WWII pilot. The Legend of Lilia is his first novel, striking a careful balance between investigative journalism and historical fiction. view profile

Published on April 21, 2022

50000 words

Contains mild explicit content ⚠️

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Genre: Historical Fiction

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