Book Review | The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite books that I’ve read all year: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.

If you’ve been following along, I’ve read a few duds this year. And after a few blahs last month, I decided to craft my November TBR with my favorite genres in mind: historical fiction and fantasy.

So far this month, I’ve read Vicious by V.E. Schwab (which I really enjoyed; I won’t review that one until I read Vengeful later this month) and then this beauty, The Rose Code.

A little bit about The Rose Code:

1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to the mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything—beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses—but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious self-made Mab, a product of east-end London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter–the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger–and their true enemy–closer…

My thoughts

The Rose Code was everything I wanted in a historical fiction novel. I read The Alice Network a few years back and really enjoyed Quinn’s storytelling (I am going to read The Huntress next month), so I went into this one with high expectations. I was not disappointed!

This book is full of rich history and masterful explanations of the process of cryptanalysis during WWII. I never heard of Bletchley Park and was fascinated to hear that there were brilliant women who worked alongside men during the war to help undermine Germany and its allies. Osla, Mab, and Beth played different roles at BP, and it was truly amazing to witness their work unfold and follow their journeys. I just loved the characters that Quinn created.

Of course, they all followed different paths. Osla, a deb who was fluent in a few languages, including German, worked to decode and translate messages during the war. Mab, who came from poverty in east-end London, worked with the giant Enigma machines, breaking codes. Mab was my favorite of the three. I loved her maturity, dedication to her sister, Lucy, and how she protected her friends. And lastly, Beth, who was good at crosswords, worked in one of the most prestigious huts and as one of the park’s few female cryptanalysts. All workers at BP were sworn to secrecy, but that didn’t stop Osla, Mab, and Beth from creating a long-lasting, yet fractured sisterhood. They all were big bookworms too, and the group formed the Mad Hatters Society, a book club with more colorful characters.

I just really enjoyed reading this one. Along with the work at BP, Quinn throws in some royal family history with Osla’s love interest being Prince Phillip. Of course, we know how that turns out. Mab meets an amazing man, Francis Gray, and you witness unconditional, fierce, love. Beth is also entwined in romance while she navigates leaving her mother’s strict house and her own self-discovery. Beth is also sent to a mental institution by someone who betrays her, and readers also get to witness the ugly truths of how women with mental illnesses were treated.

This book is equal parts enticing and maddening. It’s such a beautiful story. Every twist and turn, every climatic point. The Rose Code will make you laugh, cry, and hurt. It comes together so holistically, and I closed it wanting more.