The Rose Code – Kate Quinn

The Rose Code Kate Quinn
The Rose Code by Kate Quinn
Published by William Morrow on March 9, 2021
Genres: Fiction, Historical
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The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Huntress and The Alice Network returns with another heart-stopping World War II story of three female code breakers at Bletchley Park and the spy they must root out after the war is over.
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...

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is historical fiction, set during and after WWII. It follows the friendship between three women, all working at Bletchley Park, the top-secret home of England’s brightest codebreakers. Osla, Mab, and Beth face numerous barriers…including their gender. Although their work is occasionally tedious, they know it is important. Their efforts could be the difference between life and death—no exaggeration necessary.  The Rose Code alternates between B.P. codebreaking and 1947, when one of the women has been institutionalized. She smuggles out a coded message to her old friends: Someone had smuggled information outside of B.P.’s walls. They’d been betrayed. A traitor. But are these the musings of a mad woman, or is there truth in her tales?

I’ve read (or rather, listened to) two other Kate Quinn books: The Alice Network and The Huntress. Out of the three, The Rose Code may be my least favorite, though that isn’t to say the book is poor. The Rose Code may be one of my favorite books of 2021. Kate Quinn has an inexplicable ability to transport her readers back in time. She fills the black-and-white photos of Bletchley Park into figurative colored, moving films. Mere snapshots of time into stories with real people—as some of the characters in the book are!  You feel the tension and the pressure on your own shoulders. Quinn perfectly incorporates fiction and history in such a way that a reader cannot decipher one from the other.

While I found the main three characters to be a bit…cliché, I still loved them. Osla, the vivacious socialite who wants to prove she’s more than a pretty face. Mab, self-made and independent, who wants to do something meaningful with her life. And Beth, the shy, insecure young woman who her mother doubted. Who, furthermore, really didn’t want anything to do with Bletchley Park in the first place. Each character had individual personalities, voices, and quirks—even the minor characters had fleshed-out traits that made them seem real.

What I wish, however, is that there was a little more about cryptology in The Rose Code by Kate Quinn. It’s a difficult concept to put into words, so perhaps I am being harsh. How does the mind of a codebreaker actually work? I imagine it’s like me attempting to explain to my mother about how my imagination crafts stories. Like speaking a different language. By 1945, 75% of B.P.’s staff were women; this maybe could have been portrayed better. Overall, though, The Rose Code by Kate Quinn exemplifies everything that historical fiction should be, and I enjoyed every minute I spent in its pages.