Title: The Rose Code
Author: Kate Quinn
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 3rd March 2021
Synopsis: The brand-new historical novel from the bestselling author of The Alice Network and The Huntress!
1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.
Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.
Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.
Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged, their friendship torn apart by secrets and betrayal. Yet now they must race against the clock to crack one final code together, before it’s too late, for them and for their country.
If you loved The Crown, don’t miss this riveting historical novel!
During World War Two, whilst most people fought in battles or worked on the home front in various ways, there was a secret group of people working behind the scenes. These men and women worked at a place called Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, using bombe machines and Enigmas to break codes from enemy armies such as the German Enigma Code, to help ward off invasion and bring an end to the war. Everyone working there is condemned to secrecy under the Official Secrets Act, forbidden from ever talking about what they do – and at the end of the war – what they did, at Bletchley Park. Under this cloud of secrecy, three women from very different backgrounds come to Bletchley Park to work as codebreakers in different parts of the organisation, each contributing something to the breaking of German transmissions to help the British and their allies.
Mab longs to leave the East End and change her life, and her sister, Lucy’s life. She’s got deep secrets that she doesn’t want to reveal, yet it is her past that drives her to make the changes – starting with her new job in Bletchley Park. Osla is a Canadian debutante, rumoured to be involved with Prince Philip as both have aristocratic links and move in the same circles, but she’s determined to prove she’s more than a ‘silly deb’, as so many people see her. And Beth, who spends her life tending to her mother, and doing what her mother demands, and facing harsh punishments if she slightly steps out of line. Her life changes when she befriends Mab and Osla, and her life at Bletchley Park. Yet as the war progresses, there are whispers of betrayal, a spy within the huts and ranks of Bletchley Park, a threat that suggests something awful could happen.
The 1947 sections are set in the lead up to Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth’s wedding, yet the friendship forged in the early 1940s has been destroyed following an awful tragedy during the war years. Yet as one friend reaches out to the other two, begging for help, telling them one more code must be broken, they band together again, fighting for themselves and their country.
The Rose Code looks at a hidden part of history – hidden until recent years, at least. The codebreakers of Bletchley Park operated in secrecy – often not knowing who else worked there or if their spouse had worked there. This forms the basis of the novel, as does the theme of friendship, which is powerful and drives the narrative – they’re the focus of much of what drives Mab, Osla and Beth as they navigate war, secrecy and friendship whilst grappling with what they went through – together and apart, and through different challenges mentally, physically and emotionally. With so much at stake, this novel needed the 656 pages to effectively tell the story – a shorter book might have felt rushed in some respects, because there were so many layers that had to be peeled back slowly, so many mysteries that came up as I read, and things mentioned earlier in the book were effectively and properly answered in the latter half of the book, allowing for the reader to question what was going on, and how things were happening.
Finding out more about Bletchley Park was exhilarating – and we should treasure and value places and histories like this because they give so much more depth to our history, to the war and to our understanding of humanity and war. This is the kind of book with an epic build up, and an ending that was fast paced, yet at the same time, felt realistic – the reasons why someone does something are not always revealed, and one can imagine the traitor taking these secrets to their grave – just a small way of holding onto the power they once had to ruin innocent lives.
As I read, I became caught up in everything – the personal conflicts, the professional conflicts and the desire to protect the ones they love, yet at the same time, fraught with worry as they realise, they can’t save the people important to them. As I reached the end of the novel, I wondered what became of Mab’s mother – we knew about Osla’s family, and the fate of Beth’s family. Yet after a certain event, it was as though Mab’s mother disappeared. Even so, I thoroughly loved the friendship of the Mad Hatters – a reading and tea group at Bletchley Park, where they’d meet to discuss books in their down time. I loved the way that they came together to help Mab, Osla and Beth at the end, because for me, this spoke to the family they created whilst at Bletchley Park, referred to during the time they were there as BP. This powerful aspect – that showed that the art of codebreaking never truly left these women and men was something that gave the book such a grounding and feeling of a spy thriller at times, that I could wholly see the events unfolding as the final code was broken in 1947. I loved that romance wasn’t the goal of the story – it was loyalty to friends and loyalty to country that drove Mab, Osla and Beth. This gave the story a grounded and powerful feel, celebrating friendship, women and an aspect of history that for so long – until the 1970s – was classified, and kept secret. Now, we know about it, and its presence in novels seems to grow, as evidenced by this novel by Kate Quinn.
There is so much to say about this novel, but I am worried about spoilers – and would like to thank Belinda Murrell for the recommendation. With so many layers, this is a book that truly needs to be read if you want to know exactly how everything unfolds. This is an exciting book, and one that has an element of fear as well as unity, and would make an excellent Mad Hatters book to read!