Book Review for “The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn.
Summary: “1940: As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.”
Age: Adult; Genres: Literary, Women, Fiction, Biographical; Settings: Historical, England, WWII; Other Categories: Novel.
Before I tell you what I thought of this novel, let me warn readers – it is (at least for me) LONG – 656 pages, according to Goodreads (and my copy came without the author’s notes). Now, normally, I try to avoid long books, but… Kate Quinn… I mean, I loved “The Alice Network” and “The Huntress.” So, I couldn’t resist, and I ignored that niggle inside me, and asked for the ARC. Surprisingly, I got it, and well, the rest, they say, is history. Now, this did take me a full 10 days to finish (that’s an average of nearly 66 pages a day), but in all honesty, I don’t think it felt like it took that long to read this book (mind you, I had some problems and didn’t get around to reading at all for almost two full days during this time). Obviously, this is a very good thing, since often I feel myself pressing on in order to get to a certain spot (like, finishing 2% during each reading session) when tackling lengthy books. With this book, I found myself reaching or exceeding that goal before I even noticed. I know I overuse the word compelling, but it really does feel appropriate for this book.
By the way, shame on you, Kate Quinn – yet again you made me cry! Okay, so it happened only at the very end of the book, but you got me both in the last chapter and in the epilogue. Of course, I’m being silly, and yes, this is yet another positive aspect of this novel. If you can’t make me laugh or cry, you haven’t done your job right. In fact, Quinn got me laughing quite a few times as well throughout this novel. What I found interesting was that the characters didn’t seem to see as much humor in what was going on as the reader was able to get out of these lines and scenes. However, that makes perfect sense. These people are doing extremely important, secret work, under terrible conditions, in the middle of a world war. Obviously, they aren’t going to see something as being funny when they’re so busy, and so involved in doing such serious things.
As for the characters, the author’s notes (which I later received directly from Quinn) do clarify which ones were based on real people and which ones were figments of Quinn’s imagination. But before I got those notes, I went to the Bletchley Park website and did some digging. There I found was that Quinn’s Osla was obviously based (at least loosely) on Osla Benning, a woman who did work at BP, and who really was Prince Philip’s girlfriend before he fell in love with (the then) Princess Elizabeth. As for Mab and Beth, I now know that Beth is a conglomeration of two real women and Mab is totally a figment of Quinn’s imagination. I’m not sure if that matters because as a group, they made for a very lively and diverse bunch, which Quinn drew to perfection, making each of them ultimately sympathetic. This is another reason why I didn’t feel the length of this novel – I was too interested in their stories, and Quinn carefully builds the pace here so that by the time we’ve gotten to the end, we’re practically out of breath!
In addition, Quinn includes other real personalities in this novel. For example, of course she mentions Alan Turing, who (after being portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch) is probably the most famous of all the BP code breakers. Thankfully, Quinn doesn’t overdo the namedropping, and only sprinkles in others, such as Ian Flemming (who later wrote the James Bond books), and the Glassborow twins. One of those twins, Valarie, is the real-life grandmother of the Duchess of Cambridge (aka Kate Middleton. You know, the woman who married Prince William). Quinn also makes the Bletchley Park itself into yet another character in the book, and her descriptions of the grounds and the buildings turn this into a very visual experience (especially if you’re like me, and can make these words turn into pictures in your imagination).
By the way, Quinn did use more than one timeline, but these were very close together. We had the war era on the one hand, and on the hand, we had the time leading up to the wedding of Philip and Elizabeth. Quinn decided to use the later as a pivot to connect the achievements of BP with intrigue surrounding a possible traitor within their ranks. I won’t say more because… spoilers… but this really was a stroke of genius (inspired by the infamous Cambridge Five, one of whose members, John Cairncross, did work at BP and later confessed to having passed information to the Soviets). All of this made for a very exciting ending to this novel, and one that – despite its length – was and tight and yes… an honestly compelling read from start to finish. Therefore, I have to give this book a full five out of five stars, and highly (warmly, wholeheartedly) recommend it to everyone!
William Morrow – Harper Collins released “The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn on March 9, 2021. This book is available (via the following affiliate links) from Amazon, The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), Foyles, Waterstones, WHSmith, Walmart (Kobo) US (eBooks and audiobooks), the website eBooks.com, iTunes (iBooks and audiobooks), new or used from Alibris, used from Better World Books (promoting libraries and world literary), as well as from as well as from Bookshop.org and UK.Bookshop (to support independent bookshops, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic) or an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank the publishers for sending me an ARC of this novel via Edelweiss.