Monday, March 26, 2012

Review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code Name VerityAuthor: Elizabeth Wein
Published: February 6h 2012
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Paperback, 452 pages

Reviewing this book feels much like walking through a minefield. (Not that I know what that feels like, but I can imagine, you know.) On the one hand, I can’t reveal too much of the plot. I can’t reveal almost anything, really, lest I ruin the experience for you guys. On the other hand, I have to write just enough to make you want to pick this book up because it’s one you don’t want to miss. Trust me. I suppose I could just point you to Maggie Stiefvater’s wonderful review and leave it to her to convince you, but I’m not that much of a coward. *coughs* I just did that! *coughs*

So here goes nothing…

I don’t normally read historical fiction unless it’s highly recommended. Code Name Verity was, directly or indirectly, recommended to me by two of my trusted friends, Chachic and Jo, and, as I already mentioned, my favorite young adult author Maggie Stiefvater. And of course they were right.

Code Name Verity is a story about two best friends, Maddie and Queenie, fighting in World War II. They probably never would have met in peacetime, as they come from entirely different circles of society: Queenie is Scottish royalty who grew up in a castle, while Maddie is a bike shop owner’s granddaughter. That didn’t stop them from becoming best friends while serving together in WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), and staying close even when the war took them in different directions.

All Maddie ever wanted was to fly airplanes. She was in training before the war and when the war started, she waited patiently for them to accept female pilots, which eventually they did. Queenie’s talents lie elsewhere: she is fluent in both German and French and able to momentarily slip into any role, be herself one second, and someone entirely different the next. Although these two have very little in common on the surface, deep down they are both incredibly strong, intelligent and compassionate women.

But for me, the most fascinating character was Queenie’s capturer, Hauptsturmfürer von Linden. He starts as pure evil, of course, but as the story progresses, we are offered small details of his life that give him an entirely different face, one that is complex and multi-layered and that causes the reader to be just as conflicted as Queenie.
I don’t know what I expected, but he just looked like anybody - like the sort of chap who would come into the shop and buy a motorbike for his lad’s 16th birthday – like your headmaster.

Our story starts when Queenie gets captured by the Gestapo in France. Upon breaking her with torture and turning her into a collaborator, von Linden allows her to write down the events that led her to his cruel hands, and her written testimony is what we are given.

The narrative itself takes some getting used to. Queenie tells her present story in first person, but switches to third person and focuses on Maddie every time she talks about the past. It was a little strange at first, having the narrator talk about herself in third person, but I soon realized that it was an excellent way for Wein to help her readers adapt to constant alternations between the past and the present.

Every once in a while you know that you’ve stumbled upon a classic. Code Name Verity might have been published earlier this year, but there is no doubt in my mind that it will endure the test of time. It has the weight (although not quite the genius) of The Book Thief. I'm sure it will receive awards and critical acclaim.


  1. Brilliant review, Maja! Between yours and Maggie Stiefvater's, I am convinced this is a book worth checking out. ;) I've seen it around plenty but I never really had much interest for it before.

    The narrative does sound a little strange - I can't think of an example where I might have read a narrator talk about his or herself in third person. Still, I'm looking forward to reading as you enjoyed it so much. :)

  2. LOL!

    Oh, Maja... *cough* You're awesome *cough*

    Yeah, I don't usually read historical fiction unless it's highly recommended either, and even then I struggle with the genre, and usually just console myself by repeatedly telling myself that the genre just isn't for me. And I'd like to take you up on your recommendation, especially if you feel it has the makings of a classic, but if there is one thing that really irks me with change of narrative style. Maybe it's because my brain is so little, but it really bothers me when the story switches from first person to third person. *sighs*

    I have issues. Still, I'll definitely keep this one in mind.

  3. I'm the EXACT same way with historical fiction! The only ones that have ever made it onto my TBR pile are ones that fellow bloggers have recommended to me -- or in this case, a fantastic fellow blogger and one of my favourite authors! ;) The airplane-involved story sounds super cool and Hauptsturmfürer von Linden has one of the best names I've ever seen LOL! x)

    Amazing review, Maja! I'm actually learning about WWII right now in history class, so it's almost like you wrote this review in perfect time for me -- I'm really, really intrigued! :) <3

  4. Oh Maja..what a beautiful review. I love historical fiction ans this looks exactly like a read I would love. thank you for sharing it.

  5. I love historical fiction too! And strong female characters. What I don't really love are U.S. release dates. :(

    1. Oh, this will be a Catie book, I just know it! I'll be keeping my fingers crossed!

    2. Great review! I loved this one (and agree that Maggie Stiefvater's review of it was amazing.)

  6. Great review, Maja! I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction but if you enjoyed it then I definitely want to read it. Plus I love modern history and reading about WWII.

  7. I love historical fiction, so that and you saying it's good would have been all the words needed to get me to pick this up! lol. Though I am glad you went into more detail because it IS nicer to find out more about the book, especially since I haven't heard much about this one before.

  8. I LOVE multi-layered characters--especially if it's the villain. I'm so happy to hear that this book is comparable to The Book Thief. I don't invest much time into historical fiction, but since you liked this one so much, I think I'll have to look into it! Wonderful review, Maja! :)

  9. Never heard of this one before. I, too, don't often venture in historical fiction it's often too overwhelming - the old fashioned lingo/writing. I do love the sounds of this one though especially the characters sound great and that's always a plus (BIG character driven reader!). In another note - i have to read the Book Thief O_O

  10. I think I remember you get a bit excited over this book a while back, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. I'm not fan of historical fiction. But it has the weight of the Book Thief you say? I will certainly be checking it out :)

  11. I can't wait to read this one! Not only was it highly recommended by Maggie but also Laurie Halse Anderson, who is also one of my favorite YA authors. I love how this book tells of a different WWII story and offers different complex characters. I can't imagine being in the characters' shoes. Awesome review, Maja!

  12. Wow, this sounds great. I noticed that Maggie raved about it, but I didn't pay enough attention. I definitely want to read this now.

  13. I don't usually read historical either (you already know that!) but if you say this book has the potential to be a classic and that we should pick it up? Well, then I guess there's little I can do but take a walk to my usual library and pester them some.

    The funny thing, when you said that von Liden became multi-layered and that we got as conflicted as the main character about him? I saw potential (and potentially sick) romance in there. How bad is it that these days, I always look for the heart-related angle in every book I pick up?

    No matter. I'll definitely try to get my hands on this one, and to read it soon! Thanks for the amazing review, Maja!

  14. this 1 has been on my wishlist for a while now
    so glad its awesome
    love gr8 friendships


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