1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to 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, 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…
I don’t read a huge amount of historical fiction but The Rose Code was, for me, the perfect mix of history, character development, mystery and intrigue. It’s not a short novel at over 600 pages but I found myself completely enthralled. It doesn’t hurt that it’s set during an era I find hugely interesting – World War 2. Not ony that, but it centers on women that worked at Bletchley Park helping with the top secret (at the time, but now famous) war effort to crack enemy codes – it sounds like just my cup of tea.
One of the things that makes this book so enthralling for me was the brilliant character development. Because the book is so long, I really felt like I got a chance to properly get to know the main characters Osla, Mab and Beth, as well as their colleagues and friends, over a period of many years.
The story focuses on two main timelines – the ‘present day’ of 1947 and the ‘past’ narrative set from 1940 to around 1944. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but we find out more about their day to day lives working at Bletchley Park, the extent to which they’re expected to keep under wraps what they’re doing and their personal lives. Although they’re mostly working and living outside of central London, we still see how the blitz and other aspects of the war affects everyone in so many ways.
I loved the inclusion of some well-known historical figures in the storyline, it only added to the story’s charm, and the fact that each of the main three women are so different meant they were equally enchanting but in very different ways, each with their own very different stories and backgrounds. I hugely enjoyed this novel and now want to read much more by Kate Quinn.
Many thanks to HarperCollins UK for providing a copy of this novel on which I chose to write an honest review.