Book: Rose Under Fire (Code Name Verity #2)
Author: Elizabeth Wein
This was originally supposed to be my April #RockMyTBR read, but I switched it with The Language of Thorns because I was in the middle of exams and The Language of Thorns was shorter. In hindsight, that was a good decision, not just because of the respective lengths of the books, but also because Rose is quite a heavy, emotional book and I don’t think I could have dealt with it on top of my exams. Code Name Verity was one of my favourite books of 2016, and whilst I didn’t love this one quite as much as Verity, it still definitely packs an emotional punch, so much so that I actually cried whilst reading it, which is something that rarely ever happens to me. Here is a short synopsis of the book:
Rose Justice is a young American ATA pilot, delivering planes and taxiing pilots for the RAF in the UK during the summer of 1944. A budding poet who feels most alive while flying, she discovers that not all battles are fought in the air. An unforgettable journey from innocence to experience from the author of the best-selling, multi-award-nominated Code Name Verity. From the exhilaration of being the youngest pilot in the British air transport auxiliary, to the aftermath of surviving the notorious Ravensbruck women’s concentration camp, Rose’s story is one of courage in the face of adversity. Code Name Verity is shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal.
It’s hard not to talk about this book without mentioning the companion, and I do say companion, because this book is more of a companion to CNV than a direct sequel, with the only connecting factors being a few character cameos, so I’m going to start with it right off the bat. Rose Under Fire is a very different beast to Code Name Verity. The storytelling structure is similar, Wein uses the same journal/diary type format for both, but Code Name Verity is more of a mystery/thriller/historical hybrid, whereas Rose is more of a straight historical fiction book. There are a lot of reviews I’ve read with people who have felt disappointed in Rose Under Fire because it wasn’t as exciting or suspenseful as Code Name Verity, but I don’t think it was meant to be. Of course Verity was exciting, the main character was a spy, and the whole novel was about her confession and discovering what happened to her. Rose is telling a different story and whilst it might not be as exciting, it is just as emotional and hardhitting.
Rose’s narrative voice is closer to Maddie’s than Julie’s, it’s not as engaging, she’s not as strong a personality as Julie, but personally I related to her more. I have a lot of Julie’s humour, but for the most part, I’m more like Rose, quieter and more introspective, not so much the life and soul of the party, a dreamer, but also feisty when needs be and as much as I found Julie’s voice more engaging than Rose, I can definitely see more of myself in her (though her last name, Justice, is incredibly on the nose). I also don’t agree with reviewers who say that she’s boring, I found her struggles with PTSD following her experiences in the war really harrowing and I thought she was strong and brave through everything she went through, but she also acted in a way that was very relatable for a teenage girl, even one in such horrifying circumstances.
It was an incredibly emotional read for me, the second half in particular was really hard going, I actually cried and that is very rare for me whilst reading-I didn’t even cry in Code Name Verity. Everything that Rose and her friends go through in Ravensbruck is truly heart-wrenching and the fact that this actually happened to thousands of women makes it even more emotional. The middle section gets tough at times, yet despite that, I felt like I just couldn’t stop reading, I had to know how everything turned out. Still, just a heads up, the Ravensbruck section is HARD. It’s raw, and violent, and tough to read about and I can’t even imagine how much harder it must have been to go through it. It was the little details that made it for me, the gas chambers and the punishments and everything I knew about, and yeah they’re awful, obviously but the little details, like the first horrors of camp being about losing your hair and having to improvise a sanitary pad when you got you period? Those things really hit home for me.
Honestly aside from a few cameos, from Maddie and Anna Engel who I totally forgot was a guard for Julie in Code Name Verity until I saw a review that mentioned it, this book isn’t really that related to Verity at all. I would still recommend reading Verity first though, as there are spoilers from that book in this one. It was really nice to see Maddie again and find out what she was up to, even though I’m not sure she was entirely necessary to Rose’s story.
I loved Rose’s Camp Family, all of the Rabbits were amazing, especially Roza, who was so tough and scrappy and yeah kind of thorny and prickly, even a little bitchy at times, but I loved her so much. I reckon if Roza was real, we would definitely be friends and I could totally understand why Rose loved her so much. I loved that they really did feel like a family, friendship was such a part of Code Name Verity and I was glad to see female friendship at the forefront of this story as well. There were so many incredible female characters in this book, and that’s something I love about Wein’s writing, she always puts women front and centre in a time when they were often overlooked. Honestly all of the side characters were so interesting, any one of them could have their own books explaining their backstories before the war. My particular favourites though were of course Roza and Anna Engel (who was apparently in Code Name Verity, though I don’t remember). Anna Engel was such an interesting, complicated, morally grey character and if Wein ever wanted to write a spin-off novel about her, I would definitely read it.
I didn’t know anything really about the Rabbits, or Ravensbruck (other than that it existed) before this book, and Wein’s research really showed here because she clearly knew a lot about both, and the details were what made it particularly harrowing. I love it when historical fiction authors take well known periods but explore lesser known parts of them-there is a wealth of historical fiction based in the Holocaust era, but nothing that I’ve read so far about Ravensbruck, and I love it when I come out of a historical novel feeling like I know more.
I’ve seen many people complain about the inclusion of Rose’s poetry and that it wasn’t very good, I can’t really comment on that aspect as I’m not well versed (pardon the pun) in poetry, but I like the inclusion of it. When you’re going through something that’s hard to deal with (hard seems like an understatement here but just go with it), of course you develop a coping mechanism and it seemed natural to me that Rose, going through the horrifying experience that she was, needed a way to deal with it and I can definitely relate to using writing as a way of dealing with things.
The pacing was a little all over the place. Basically the book is set up in three parts, one is Rose pre-Ravensbruck, one is Ravensbruck and one is the Nuremberg trials, post WWII. The book gets off to a very slow start. Once we get to Ravensbruck, the plot isn’t necessarily fast paced, but the story is more engaging and I couldn’t stop turning the pages because I needed to see how Rose had ended up in Paris and what had happened to her to make her so damaged. The end section is rather clunky and could probably have done with being a bit shorter. There’s a transition between the first and second parts with letters between Maddie and Rose’s family, that I felt I could probably have done without.
There are some reviewers who say the book lacked suspense because we know at the beginning of Rose’s section who makes it out of Ravensbruck and who doesn’t. I disagree with this, because even though I knew that Rose and her friends would get out, I still felt nervous for them, every time there was a selection, I wondered whether they’d get chosen, so for me, the fear and anxiety that they must have felt was definitely still there!
There were some things that felt a bit far fetched, the fact that Rose could relay these whole conversations between women whose language she didn’t even understand? Yeah, doesn’t make too much sense and there was a whole section at the end when they were getting out of Ravensbruck that was incredibly far fetched, I don’t think it would actually have ever happened during the war.
There were also reviewers who complained that there were not enough Jewish prisoners in Ravensbruck, given the time period that the novel was set in. I have to admit, this didn’t cross my mind whilst reading, but having looked into it more, it makes sense given the time period of the novel. Rose arrives at Ravensbruck in 1944, and nearly all of the Jewish prisoners from Ravensbruck had been transferred to Auschwitz in 1942 and 1943, so it makes sense that Rose doesn’t come across many during her time at the camp, by the time Rose arrived, in real time, nearly all of the Jewish prisoners would have been sent to Auschwitz as part of the Final Solution.
Rose gives a slightly different perspective on the camp experience, being a prisoner of war from the Allied side, who had not been living in occupied territory before she was captured, so she’s kind of like a conduit for the reader, we discover the horrors of the concentration camp along with her (though knowing considerably more than she does).
There’s a particular line at the end of the book that seems to cause some controversy among readers, where Maddie tells Rose that Julie never would have survived what Rose did. I don’t think that she means that Julie couldn’t have survived the concentration camp, that she wasn’t strong or brave enough to do so, because she absolutely would have, I think what Maddie meant was that the SS would have been much harsher on her than they were on Rose (and she did not have it easy), as it’s hinted at in CNV that Julie would be sent to a concentration camp to have medical experiments done to her, much like the Rabbits and that Maddie didn’t think she would have survived that.
I felt like the ending was kind of anti-climactic, I reckon the end of Part 2 would probably have made a better ending, but I liked that it ended on a hopeful note, as hope runs strongly through the book, even in the darkest days of Ravensbruck, when all hope seems to be lost, Rose and her friends still manage to retain some hope, so it seems right that the book ended on a hopeful note as well.
So yeah, this was a very different book to Code Name Verity, but I liked that. Rose’s story is unique and her own and it’s hard and it’s horrifying at times, but we need stories like this. A strong theme in this book is “Tell The World”, something the girls repeat over and over, they have to survive so they can tell the world what was done to them, and whilst Rose and her friends might not be real, they represent a lot of very real women who did go through the things they went through and we cannot forget about them.
My Rating: 3/5
BECHDEL TEST: Pass-This book passes the Bechdel test with flying colours, Rose and her friends, all named, talked about many things that are not to do with men, usually relating to the war and the camp.
My next review will be of Daughter of The Burning City, by Amanda Foody.