Updated: Dec 19, 2021
History is really just a novel without the embellishments and with a whole lot more truth. That is what I discovered when I read a true historical fiction for the first time.
I cannot remember where I first saw this book it was so long ago. There is some vague memory of seeing it on Goodreads (but that could be a false memory). It was released earlier this year (March 9) so perhaps I saw it in a giveaway for the book close to the release date.
The thing is, when I first saw it, I read the blurb. And when I read the blurb, I knew I just had to read the book. It captured me and at that moment, I wanted nothing more than to have this book in my hands (see the blurb below the cover).
It took me a long time to actually get it into my hands. If you have read any of my other blog posts, you likely know my policy on buying books (especially while I am not making any money!) is to either buy them second hand, before the release date (so I can get a preorder gift) or not at all.
So since I wasn't buying the book (it was much too new to be available through Thriftbooks), I had to find a way to borrow it. The local library did have a copy (thank you Jesus!) but it had 5 holds on it. Let me repeat that for you so you understand how crazy that is: five holds. It had five holds.
Our library services a reasonably small community and not everyone in that community are even readers, to begin with. Most of the time, the reason you won't find a book in the library is because they do not have a copy. On occasion, the book will be checked out when you are looking for it. If it is really popular, there may be 1-2 holds on it. But 5? And only a month or two after the book had come out??
Now I knew the book must be good. So I got in line and waited my turn. Finally, a week ago, I received the book and began reading it.
Honestly, at first, I wasn't blown away.
I am used to reading fantasy novels in which the characters have mysterious powers (usually different powers than the rest of the world) or awesome skills and are constantly fighting and trying to save the world. Commonly, my reads are action-packed from beginning to end. They have a clear conflict, rising action, and a climax that follows the pattern shown below.
The Rose Code, on the other hand, was a little slow. It felt as though the first 400 pages or so were spent on the first block (the blue). Then in the last 200 pages, the book had rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
That is not to say I didn't enjoy the book. I did. The characters were excellent and the 400 pages that were a little slow were still really well written and interesting to read. However, I did feel that the book could have been shortened by 200 pages and still would have made sense (and moved a little faster).
I have to say though, my absolute favorite part of the book was the historical accuracy. I am not much of a history person (I tried to think of them as stories but they were too bland!). But I loved the way that Quinn took real facts, places, and people and turned it into a great read! You guys, the amount of research that would have had to go into this is astounding. I would never be able to pull this off. Good on anyone who has the guts to attempt historical fiction because, man, that would be hard.
Just to give you an idea:
First, there are all the dates, places, times, and actions that went into the world war. Kate Quinn would have had to research the names of airplanes, codes, and machines. She would have researched dates that different battles took place (and where) and what commanders were involved. She would have had to know when bombings took place in England. She would have had to stuff all that world war II knowledge into her head.
But it wouldn't stop there. Kate Quinn also uses real people. From Victoria Middleton who was Kate Middleton's Grandmother (and who really did work at Bletchley Park) to Peggy Rock (one of the best codebreakers on Dilly Knox's team at Bletchley Park. These were real women who played a real role in the world war. The Rose Code is fiction but the women in it are not.
Then there is the slang. I knew the slang in the book for the most part (as a kiwi) so it rolled off my back (no translating for me!). But Kate Quinn is an American author. She would have had to look up the things the British did in that time period, what slang was used, and what food was eaten and clothing worn.
Honestly, I'm not sure whether it was another part of her research or not but I also appreciated the references to the Wizard of Oz (Osla is called Ozma) and Alice in Wonderland (aside from anything else, the woman in the institution is there under the name Alice Liddell). I love these classics which came out originally in 1900 and 1865 respectively. They wouldn't have been recent releases for the women (and men) in the book either but certainly, they may have been even more popular then.
Finally, I really loved the culture of chivalry and chastity (until marriage) in the book. That's not to say there aren't plenty of on-the-edge scenes in the book (I wouldn't recommend anyone under 13 read it) and all three of the main characters do end up having sex outside of marriage. However, I appreciate how the book shows the value of sex inside of marriage (and how the culture back then valued it). I appreciated how it revealed the flaws of the culture as well as the flaws of our current culture (where everyone wants to have pre-marital sex). I thought it showed that men can be chivalrous when given a reason to be (the culture requires that they be that way). Overall, I really appreciated the way Quinn included this element in the book.
As a whole, would definitely recommend the book despite it being slow. It is an excellent historical fiction read and a beautifully written novel (and I even hear it might become a TV show!!).
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.
1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter--the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger--and their true enemy--closer...