It took a long time to get my hands on this book. When I finally settled down to read it I was filled with anticipation thanks to copious good reviews, award nominations and the fact that it was a female adventure novel (yay!) Did it live up to the hype? Read on...
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein has a brilliant premise for it's story: A British spy, code named Verity, has been captured by Nazis in France, and it being forced to write down her confession, divulging British intelligence secrets during World War 2. Alongside war secrets, she tells the story of her best friend, a pilot named Maddie. Is she telling them the truth? What has she traded for her information? How did she end up a Nazi prisoner? Intrigue and action shoot through the pages of this book right up to it's heart-wrenching end.
I loved how much a I learnt from this book. I had a one-size-fits-all, school-given history of WWII and had obviously watched many films on the subject... but female roles in the war effort are very hard to find out about in detail, without going out of your way to look for them. Perhaps I'm just uncultured?! Either way, learning about female pilots was great. It's something I'd never even thought about before and I really enjoyed being shown throughout the novel the hurdles women faced, despite being more skilled than some of the fighter pilots being sent to Europe. I could almost feel my inner feminist stamping her foot!
I also loved the characterisation of Verity - a tortured prisoner of war torn between her choices. Bordering on hysterical but always, always in control. It's very hard to speak about the characters without giving away plot spoilers so I'm going to have to keep it brief, but Verity encapsulated everything great about a character in adventure books. She was also - amazingly - a source of comic relief in the novel. She was a perfect balance of strength, vulnerability, role model and traitor. Very good.
However (sorry, guys, I'm always swooping in with the "buts"!) Code Name Verity is not perfect. It is not the shining example of brilliance I was kind of expecting...
After a very slow beginning (I didn't feel the unrelenting urge to keep reading until about 200 pages in) I felt there was far too much war jargon, acronyms and tactical/technical information. While I enjoyed learning about female WWII pilots, I didn't enjoy feeling as though I could probably navigate airfield to airfield myself by the end of the book. The constant flight information was overbearing to the point of skipping pages. It wasn't until reading the authors notes at the end I found out Elizabeth Wein is a pilot herself. It made a little more sense at that point, but it really dragged down the pace of the story.
Also... ***Slight spoilers in the next paragraph***
The ending left me feeling a little... meh. It just kind of petered out! After a heartwrenching act of friendship at it's climax, the story continues in something of a meandering nonsense towards the final page. I found it devoid of any real emotion which utterly surprised me considering how much I loved the characters. Simply being told "I am now crying" is just not the same as experiencing an emotion with the character. Considering the format is a diary, we should be welcomed into the inner turmoils of the narrator, and yet all we have is words to the effect of "I must stop before my tears smudge the ink". Show don't tell just didn't seem to apply very much and it was such a shame.
So, overall I loved the original concept and insight to WWII Code Name Verity provides. It has some wonderful characters, and lots of questions to keep you going despite long periods of "war talk" that may simply pass over the head of some readers. The finale, despite it's lack of momentum after the climax, was painful and suitably fitting all at once. Endings were tied up nicely, too, which was quite neat.
8/10 for Code Name Verity :)
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Code Name Verity - review
Emma is a designer living in Bristol, UK. A self-confessed stationery addict, book lover and TV sci-fi geek, she enjoys sketching zombie-eyed women and finding her next source of inspiration in the pages on the bookshelf.