Monday, October 6, 2014

Code Name Heartwrenching!

Over the course of the last month I have finally gotten in the mood to read Code Name Verity by Elizbeth Wein.  I had heard a lot of great things about it from trusted sources, but knew it was going to be a bit on the heavy I waited until I was in the perfect mood for a book like this.  I found it very different from what I was a good way...I think...Let's get to it shall we?  Please be warned that this book is about the suspense and this post will be full of SPOILERS AHEAD!  So please read (or not) accordingly.
This is a two part book, told from two different perspectives.  In the first half we have a captured British agent who is being tortured for information.  The book is written in the form of her confession/information for her captors.  She writes in a combination diary/novel format, always keeping the story at arms length.  We find our little agent has agreed to give up 11 codes for the 11 code machines she was found with when her plane crashed in occupied France.  She gives up each code for a creature comfort, such as her clothes and a blanket.  She writes of her contempt for her captors, and fear that she will be seen as a traitor for giving so much away.  Her story unfolds and we eventually come to learn that she (in the form of Queenie) and a female pilot by the name of Maddie have become very good friends over the course of WWII.  Queenie becomes an interrogator due to her knowledge of German and her very convincing style of questioning.  Maddie is much quieter then the loud and flamboyant Queenie, but she lives for flying and the two become a great team.  Everything goes wrong when Maddie and Queenie end up on a mission to drop Queenie in France for some undisclosed mission.  Queenie makes it down, but is quickly captured due to her lack of local knowledge.  We watch as she describes her past and present with a strange, yet realistic mix of humor and groveling dread. A definite change is noted when she is shown pictures of her wreck and the body of the pilot are shown to her, she starts to lose all emotional control at the thought of her dead friend.  We end her section with her begging, and pleading, and in obvious mental and physical distress.  Part two of this book is told from Maddie's perspective, mostly after the Queenie parachutes out of the plane into France.  Maddie (who obviously did not die in the plane crash) is hidden by
French sympathizers until her escape can be safely brought about.  We learn her side of the story and low and behold Queenie (who is really named Julia, code name Verity) has made up the vast majority of her confession.  The codes, the machine, the names of airfields and officers have all been made up, with just enough truth to get past her captors.  While awaiting escape, Maddie learns that Queenie is alive and being held in the very prison she was sent to infiltrate.  Queenie's "confession" is smuggled out and turns out to be coded plans and information for the resistance.  As the story comes to a close, Maddie assists the resistance with the raid on the prison and discovers Queenie, along with several other prisoners are being transported to a final camp...either for hard labor, or immediate termination.  The resistance plans to blow up a bridge and rescue Queenie, but as plans do, all goes awry and Queenie suffers.  Queenie spots Maddie and begs her in code to end her suffering quickly.  Maddie shoots Queenie, giving her the quick and painless death of mercy.  Maddie understandably feels guilty about killing her best friend, and struggles to report it when she debriefed after her rescue.  The book ends with Queenie's brother and mother both offering and asking to be considered family by Maddie, understanding that she gave Queenie the end she wanted. all of that, really does not communicate what the book is about at all, not even a little bit.  This book is essentially about a friendship, in fact this friendship between Queenie and Maddie (I keep calling her Queenie for consistency/lack of confusions sake) is about the only true constant in the book.  The story, the writing style, the perspectives all vary wildly through out the book.  One moment we are in a third person narrative, the next another person's first person musings, another a person speaking directly to another.  This narrative style mostly works for this type of book, as emotion is the core of the whole story.  The bit of confusion only adds to the reader empathizing with the various characters.  I mentioned above that this book was not exactly what I was expecting.  From what I had heard from other people, I thought it was all going to be set in the prison that Queenie was being held.  I also got the impression that Queenie actually was a traitor (obviously these people are better at spoiler free reviews then I am :-) ) or at least cracked under pressure.  To be honest I was a bit excited about that prospect as I have never really read anything from that perspective, though I imagine with a certain amount of torture more people crack then not.  I did not expect the more...almost light hearted tone the story took at several points (are you enjoying my use of ...and/ today?)  There were moments of utter heartbreak, and I admit Maddie's role in Queenie's death came as a surprise, but there was not a whole lot that was over the top.  I'm not sure if my overall
impression of the book is because it was not what I had initially thought the book was going to be like, or if I genuinely don't have a clear cut idea of what I think about the book.  In general I liked Queenie's half of the book the best, her mix of sauciness and despair rang true and interesting.  Maddie's half was more predictable and a bit angst ridden for me.  Queenie's part felt a bit like the part in the movie V for Vendetta where Natalie Portman's character is held in prison and learns about a past prisoner, and since I love that movie it worked for me.  Maddie's part felt more traditionally, heroine overcomes all odds to be the true friend that is needed without a lot of originality type of a story.  I did appreciate the research the author put into this book, even with the artistic liberties she freely admits to, the feel and vibe of the book feel right, which is very important to me.  I did enjoy seeing where Queenie got her stories to feed to her captors.  However there seemed to be a lot of overly convenient ties between the family that helped Maddie and the people holding Queenie.  I guess I did like the book, especially the first half.  If it were up to me I would have liked to read a lot more of the Queenie side of things and style of writing.  I see why it got rave reviews, and would recommend it to anybody who has an interest in historical fiction, kick-ass girls, a bit of a tear jerker, or liked the movie V for Vendetta.  I will give this book 7 out of 10 Puss Moths.
What do you think of authors taking artistic liberties with known history?  How often does a book not turn out like you were expecting?  How confusing was this rambling?

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