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Books About Letters: "The Rose Code"

Updated: Mar 14, 2021

I received a copy of "The Rose Code" by Kate Quinn (out March 2021 from Harper Collins) from the publisher for review. Fans of World War II fiction and films or television series like "The Imitation Game" or "Bletchley Circle" are in for a treat with this highly anticipated release from the author of "The Alice Network" and "The Huntress". Curious? Read on for my thoughts about this book.

In "The Rose Code" the story is split between the early 1940s and 1947, days before the Royal Wedding in England. Quinn's three protagonists -- Osla, Mab, & Beth -- meet as young, spunky women determined to play their part in the war effort all centered around the extraordinary Bletchley Park. During World War II the German's used a particular type of code for their messages that was reset every twenty-four hours. This meant that to learn anything for the Allies, thousands of the most brilliant minds had to test the millions of possible combinations and quite literally crack the codes. Our three heroines are sworn to secrecy under the Official Secrets Act and with a host of their Bletchley 'Boffins' -- translators, operators, codebreakers etc. -- paint a portrait of life inside World War II's best kept codebreaking secret. And how those secrets continue on long into peace time.

English country house "Bletchley Park" in Buckinghamshire which became the Allied code-breaking headquarters of World War II. Source:

Quinn's powerful style of writing that carried "The Alice Network" to the New York Times Bestseller list in 2017 is back in this sensational story of wartime intrigue and female friendship. You're easily swept up in the day to day pressure and tensions that would have been at Bletchley. I am not mathematical or numerically minded at all and compliment how Quinn tackles the complexities of codebreaking digestibly. There are times in the heat of moment where the reader almost feels equipped to jump into the story and man a Bombe machine or crack an Enigma code herself.

A German Engima Machine & English Bombe Machine, as would have been used at Bletchley to break German code in WW2. Source: Discover Magazine.

The heroines are more like real women than you're apt to find in most Historical Fiction. They get frustrated, get giddy, get mean or generous, and don't spend pages pontificating on the reasons behind split second decisions. They hurt, they love, and they commit to those intense, raw feelings -- they are some of the most human characters in the genre.

'The Rose Network" is not so much a book about letters as a book with letters. The satirical blurbs -- "Bletchley Blitherings", or "BB" in the book -- open chapters set in wartime Bletchley and show Quinn's prowess for period perfect prose. Letters from Osla are a portrait into the mind of a woman experiencing the trauma of the Blitz Bombings. While letter's written to Mab force her to explore the expectations piled on women in the 1940s. And Beth's letters, while smaller in part, play into a critical plot point that opens the story and unfurls beautifully throughout like her Rose Code.

For a novel that dances between times, locations, and characters the story moves at a nice pace with satisfying build up and a tidy series of climaxes without the "perfect" ending. I was reading this novel in the mornings and especially for the last hundred or so pages I couldn't wait to pick it up for my lunch break! Readers will not be disappointed when this release hits shelves. Find it where good books are sold March 2021.

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