Rose Under Fire

By Elizabeth Wein

Book CoverShortly after Kinsey notified us all about the sequel to Code Name Verity, I checked out Rose Under Fire, with some trepidation, I have to admit. Code Name Verity was excellent, but also completely devastating in parts, and Rose Under Fire had the potential to be even worse. The majority of the book is set in a Nazi concentration camp for women, with extra focus given to the victims of the ‘medical’ experiments. I just wasn’t sure I could take it.

However, Elizabeth Wein is a genius and knows exactly how to tread the line. Most of the book is mercifully told in flashback, so readers can continually reassure themselves that at least these few characters have necessarily survived. This doesn’t mean it isn’t heartbreaking, of course; just not unbearably so. I would even say, all things considered, that overall it was more upbeat (not the right word at all) than Code Name Verity. (It also is not a direct sequel, per se; it has some shared characters, but features a newly introduced main character.)

Several weeks later, I followed this up with watching “Judgment at Nuremberg,” a 1961 film recounting one of the trials at Nuremberg, this one against four judges for crimes against humanity. Spenser Tracy stars as the retired American judge who agrees to oversee the tribunal for this trial, and wrestles with his own conscience in trying to reconcile the crimes that were committed in the past with the current devastation of the country.

The movie explores to what degree individuals are responsible for the actions of a government. Outside of the courtroom testimony, some of the more painful scenes are of regular citizens looking dazed and insisting they had no knowledge at all of the actions of the Nazi party. It inspires an unsettling mixture of pity and anger in both the judge and the viewer, and raises tough questions without easy answers. It was a good companion to “Rose Under Fire,” and now I’m ready to turn to some lighter books and movies.


Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells

Edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

Book CoverThis anthology is collected by the same editors and many of the same authors as Teeth, which I read and reviewed previously. It is described on the cover as “an anthology of gaslamp fantasy,” and having the setting be the common factor instead of the characters allowed for a greater range in the stories, which I appreciated.

The Victorian Era, too, is an excellent setting to pick, since so much was going on! There was the very first world’s fair, an explosion of technology, science, and manufacturing, and a return to romance in the arts. It was an era of lots of contradictions, as well: most well-known for extreme wealth, it also had predominant extreme poverty; the British Empire was both strongly xenophobic and driven to colonize; and Queen Victoria herself was both a pretty and lively young girl, and a solemn and joyless widow.

Though, once again, I checked out the book for the short story by Genevieve Valentine, I was pleased that the anthology also included Elizabeth Wein and Caroline Stevermer. My favorite stories ended up being “The Governess” by Elizabeth Bear, in which a governess takes a position in a very troubled household, and “Phosphorus” by Veronica Schanoes, about the strike of the women who worked in the match factories. Don’t those two alone reveal the wide scope of the book?

Can I also describe how ridiculous I can be? I had always had a vague feeling that I didn’t care for Elizabeth Bear, because I believed that she had written Clan of the Cave Bear (because “Bear”) and/or Women Who Run with Wolves, or some amalgamum of both books that only exists in my head. In addition to the fact that Elizabeth Bear did not write either of those books, I have not actually read either of those books, or any books that Elizabeth Bear has actually written. No reality will keep me from my pointless prejudices!

— Anna

Code Name Verity

I’ve been home sick from work for a couple of days now, and while I am tired of coughing and sick of my couch, I did get a chance to finish an AMAZING book: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

This WWII story is about a young, female British intelligence agent who is captured in Occupied France while on a mission, and is writing her confession for her Gestapo captors. But telling her story also involves describing her friendship with a female pilot, so while it’s a war novel, there’s also this lovely thread of friendship running through it. I’m a sucker for WWII stories and this one is clearly impeccably researched. It’s also really cleverly put together–things are not the way they may appear on the surface of the story, which is completely appropriate for a tale told by intelligence officers. As I was reading, I had a sense that something else was going on, but was still surprised by how things came together at the end. It was difficult to read, at times, but so well constructed. After Eleanor and Park, this was the best thing I’ve read this year.

One note: my library classified this as YA, but I found it pretty disturbingly violent. Realistically violent, not gratuitously so, but still. I would call this a book for adults or maybe older teens.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review: Harrowing, heart-breaking, and gripping.

You might also like: The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak, or How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, or Gone to Soldiers by Marge Piercy