Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book review: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Set during World War II, Code Name Verity tells the story of Verity and Kittyhawk; or rather Julie and Maddie. They're two young women from very different backgrounds who do very different jobs. Maddie is a hotshot pilot, and Julie is a special operations executive. The novel begins with Julie (aka Verity) languishing in a prison cell, captured by the Gestapo and coerced in to spilling all she knows about Britain's plans for the war. And so an epic tale of love, honour, betrayal, intrigue and violence unfolds...
Code Name Verity is a very accomplished novel, make no bones about that. Anything with this impressive depth of historical research (even if, as Wein notes in her afterword, there are some intentional inaccuracies) is to be applauded, and she really nails the sense of place, from the inside of a Nazi prison cell to a British airbase. The action scenes are written with page turning suspense, and Wein writes in a readable, yet elegant, style. Perhaps most importantly, the friendship between Julie and Maddie is the centrepiece of the story: you really do believe that the two of them will do anything for each other.
Here come the buts...
Wein makes a decent fist of distingushing the two narrative voices of her heroines, but when it comes down to it both appear to have the same virtues and character flaws. Like I said, their friendship is a really potent one, but it's hard to know how to react when they're not really all that different to one another. I can't be the only one who's annoyed that both of them seem to burst in to tears at least once a page (yes I know they're going through exceptionally difficult circumstances, but still). As compelling as the story is overall, it's hampered by dull scenes which do little to move the story forward or crank up the suspense. The novel takes a fair while to get going too. Can YA readers be trusted to stick with it for that long?
YA novels set in wartime are commonplace, and whilst Code Name Verity is a worthy enough addition to the canon, it doesn't quite match up to the emotional and thought provoking clout the very best of the genre has to offer: this novel being a recent example. There is much to admire in this book, but I suppose that's why I have reservations over it. It's a novel I find a lot easier to admire than I do to love.


  1. And interesting and balanced review. Cheers Joe, I'll have to look out for that one!

  2. Thanks Kate, and if you do get a hold of it, hope you enjoy just that little bit more than I did!