Author: Elizabeth Wein
Series: Code Name Verity Series
Publisher: Egmont Press
Publish Date: February 6th, 2012
Genres: Historical Fiction, World War II, Young Adult
Two young women become unlikely best friends during WWII, until one is captured by the Gestapo. Only in wartime could a stalwart lass from Manchester rub shoulders with a Scottish aristocrat, one a pilot, the other a special operations executive. Yet whenever their paths cross, they complement each other perfectly and before long become devoted to each other.
But then a vital mission goes wrong, and one of the friends has to bail out of a faulty plane over France. She is captured by the Gestapo and becomes a prisoner of war. The story begins in “Verity’s” own words, as she writes her account for her captors. Truth or lies? Honour or betrayal? Everything they’ve ever believed in is put to the test…
One of my goals of 2017 was to work my way through some of the historical fiction books that have been sitting on my bookshelves and collecting dust. While historical fiction is one of my favorite genres, I go through spurts of reading solely historical fiction versus picking up only one or two books from the genre per month. In an attempt to rectify this unbookwormly habit, I’ve been incorporating historical fiction works more regularly into my reading. Therefore, I decided to kick off the summer by tackling Code Name Verity.
With respect to my tastes in historical fiction novels, I have a fascination with Victorian Era London and World War II settings (yes, I’m aware, the two couldn’t be more different). Nevertheless, I expected Code Name Verity to be right up my alley, and due to all of the hype surrounding the series, I was looking forward to reading it. The beginning 50-100 pages, however, rubbed me the wrong way and established the not-so-pleasant tone for the remainder of the novel.
First and foremost, I was completely lost – Verity’s narrative jumps headfirst into the middle of her story, providing little context for readers to orient themselves. To make matters worse, the full picture wasn’t revealed until the conclusion of the book, leaving me utterly confused and brimming with a host of unanswered questions for the majority of the novel. Furthermore, the book was rather detail-heavy, primarily honing in on aircraft specifics, technicalities, and mechanics that went straight over my head. These unnecessary descriptions only served to bog me down while reading. They could’ve easily been excluded, and the novel would’ve captured the same messages and themes while adopting a more interesting tone that placed additional emphasis on the plot and characters.
Based upon Code Name Verity’s summary, I was expecting a significantly more action-driven plot, rather than a confusing, far from chronological recollection of seemingly unconnected events interspersed with all too frequent and entirely unrelated details and tidbits of information regarding the war. All in all, the pacing was painfully slow, the narration boring, and both my attention span and interest waned quickly. And yes, I seriously and repeatedly contemplated marking this book DNF, yet I continued pushing onward in the hopes that the ending would serve as the novel’s redeeming quality.
Despite my best efforts and intentions with respect to reading Code Name Verity from cover to cover, I was far from enthralled with the ending. While I appreciated the concluding plot twist and its emotional appeal, neither was substantial enough to salvage the book as a whole. And, being the cold, cynical, emotionless human being that I am, it was far from a “heart-wrenching” read for me. The unexpected turn of events was both sad and incredibly unfortunate, yet it didn’t leave me with any strong, lasting impressions.
The format of the narration also influenced my perception of the book, as I found the non sequential “diary entry” retellings of past events to add another layer of confusion to the novel. It was difficult to discern past from present events, and the frequent swapping between code names and the characters’ actual names did nothing to simplify matters. The writing style, although unique, didn’t lend itself well to clarifying an already bewildering plot in which I felt that I was always twenty steps behind and would never fully grasp what was transpiring. The writing itself was haphazard and informal, featuring odd phrasing and the occasional sentence fragment masquerading as a complete sentence.
Additionally, I couldn’t distinguish between the narrators’ two voices – both seemed identical, sharing similar mannerisms, patterns of speech, and dry senses of humor. Consequently, the two felt interchangeable and nondescript, and I had difficulty connecting with either. To further compound my utter indifference to both protagonists, they exhibited frustratingly minimal growth or character development throughout the novel, remaining disappointingly static and flat. They also had a rather enraging habit of telling rather than showing in their narration. Instead of obscurely hinting at the underlying emotions or tensions in a scene and allowing readers to infer these characteristics, the narrators outright explained these aspects. They might as well have written them in neon highlighter and attached some blinking lights for good measure.
Overall, Code Name Verity was well-researched, historically accurate, and had an intriguing premise, but I couldn’t see the appeal. While I was intrigued by both the plot and the characters, the book’s execution heavily influenced my rating and my enjoyment (or lack thereof) while reading. I enjoyed what little of the plot I could discern, but the remainder of the book struck me as a tangled web of somewhat related tales that the author had attempted to shove into a cookie cutter plot. The result was not pretty, to say the least.
|Plot & Premise|
I’m a 20 year old college student with a love of reading and a high tolerance for caffeinated beverages. When I’m not wrapped up in my pre-medical coursework, I’m usually engrossed in a fantasy or psychological thriller, interspersed with the occasional young adult novel.