The Rose Code is Kate Quinn’s third novel featuring women who rise to the occasion during the world wars (after The Alice Network and The Huntress). And, like those other books, it is completely outstanding. Quinn brilliantly blends history with tension and emotional depth and original characters to create a novel that had me hooked from page one. The only thing stopping me from saying this was my favorite Quinn novel is the fact that I love all of them.
Beth Finch, Osla Kendall, and Mab Churt are three women who would never have met in the course of their regular lives. Like many others, war threw the three of them together at Bletchley Park, the legendary site where the British cracked the Enigma machine and other Axis codes. (There are wonderful cameos from Dilly Knox and Alan Turing—and even the future Duke of Edinburgh.) Osla’s fluency in German takes the debutante to the translation huts. Londoner Mab’s secretarial skills take her to the Typex machines before her height brings her into the huts where the bombe machines crunch numbers. Beth’s ability to spot patterns takes her to the huts where women (and a few men) gathered from across Britain try to find their way into the seemingly uncrackable German and Italian codes. Much of this book reveals what life might have been like at Bletchley during its heyday: boring and stressful and goofy and challenging for the duration.
But Quinn adds an extra layer of tension on top of all the tension of codebreaking and secrecy by moving back and forth from the war to the weeks before the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Mab and Osla have moved on with their lives, more or less, but Beth has somehow become trapped in a mental asylum with the threat of lobotomy hanging over her head. Her lightning-fast brain has worked out that a traitor at Bletchley got her locked up to keep her from spilling what she knows. Only getting the girls back—and reassembling some of the team from the old days to work their cryptanalytic magic—can save Beth.
This book hooked me so hard I wish I had read it over a weekend so that I didn’t have to watch my bedtimes. I would recommend The Rose Code to any fans of World War II historical fiction, or even just fans of historical fiction featuring women who get the chance to buck all expectations and become heroes. Run, do not walk, to get a copy of this book.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.