Title: The Rose Code
Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: March 9th, 2021 (William Morrow)
Synopsis: 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…
Thank you to the publisher, Harper Collins, and Edelweiss for providing me with an eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The year is 1940, and three women answer a mysterious summons to the country estate of Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, learning upon arrival that they are to join teams that work to break codes in intercepted German military communications. Wealthy Canadian born debutante Osla has everything, but longs to prove herself as more than just another society girl, and gains the opportunity when her proficiency in German lands her a position translating decoded enemy messages. Mab has worked hard to give herself an education and a brighter future than the poverty she grew up in. She works the codebreaking machines, even as she looks for the security a husband will bring, all the while concealing a dark secret. Then there is meek Beth, the village spinster, who has been cowed by her domineering mother all her life and made to believe she is worthless. But Osla and Mab see potential in her talent for puzzles and when she becomes one of the few female cryptanalysts at Bletchley, her true genius begins to shine through. With the extreme secrecy that the job requires, the three of them soon become close friends. Fast forward to 1947, the three women, once close friends are now enemies, torn apart by secrets and betrayal, but they meet again reluctantly when Beth, who has been confined to an asylum under false pretences, manages to reach out at last with critical information she was shut away for knowing. There was and still is a traitor among the group at Bletchley Park, and they must get back together to break one last code to find the evidence.
Kate Quinn has been one of my favourite historical fiction authors ever since I read The Empress of Rome series (which was also my introduction to the world of Ancient Rome) years ago, so when I got approved for the ARC I had to literally pinch myself to make sure it was real. Her novels never disappoint, and The Rose Code was no exception – a masterfully crafted narrative. Before this book, I knew a little about the codebreaking efforts in Bletchley Park during WWII, which certainly helped, but even without that I have no doubt I would have enjoyed it just as much. This book is narrated in dual timelines, which is one of my favourite ways to read historical novels, and the way it fits in with real-life people and events of the time was seamless.
The Rose Code is narrated from the perspectives of all three women in both timelines. While the driving mystery is of course, how exactly Beth ended up in an asylum and who the traitor in the group was, the story that surrounded it was no less enthralling. Osla, Mab and Beth were all fantastic characters, and their arcs were riveting – from their years at Bletchley to their lives after the war – and for Beth, the horror of enduring the asylums of the time, not to mention the barbaric methods they used – Kate Quinn has done a marvellous job of describing their stories. The cryptography aspect was absolutely fascinating, and I really liked learning about the techniques which were used. As for the mystery itself, some hints were dropped as to the identity of the traitor, but they were so subtle that things don’t line up until much closer to the end. I also found it interesting that the plot really thickens only in the timeline after the war, when one would typically think that the danger is past.
At close to 700 pages, this is no quick read. As with all of the author’s books, this too takes some patience and is by no means fast paced. The build up is gradual and raises the tension beautifully – it ought to be savoured and this is a story I thoroughly enjoyed letting myself be lost in. I have nothing negative to say at all – The Rose Code was an incredible read and I would highly recommend this book. I can’t wait to see what the author writes next!
The Rose Code releases on March 9th, 2021.
Do you plan to read this book? Let me know in the comments below!