The Alice Network – a review

It’s frustrating as I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing. However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 21 books now read from my target of 35.

As for reviews, this follows my review of The Huntress – my belated introduction to the brilliant Kate Quinn. I still have six more outstanding reviews as I finished reading another novel as I wrote that last review.

Oh well, I’m further behind reading emails so can’t panic – yet. So, onto the review.

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn 

Narrated by: Saskia Maarleveld 

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women – a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 – are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. 

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose. 

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads.

Review 5 stars

I bought the Audible version of ‘The Alice Network’ after reading Kate Quinn’s ‘The Huntress’ so knew I had to read more by this talented writer.

I was not disappointed. We weren’t…

My wife and I listened transfixed, not wanting to pause the excellent narration or the flow of crafted words. Kate Quinn at her best and deserving many more stars.

From the tantalising opening in 1947 with pregnant, unmarried, American college girl Charlie St. Clair remembering her beloved cousin Rose, we were pulled into this intricately crafted tale that spans two World Wars. Rose disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, but the key might be Eve Gardiner, who is haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network of secret agents, thirty years earlier during WWI.

Eve was sent into enemy-occupied France and was trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies,” who uses the pseudonym of Alice Dubois – hence the network’s name. Her story and her memories of that period are woven into the ongoing story once Eve and Rose meet – well, a clash of opposites…experiences versus youthful recklessness. A clash that needs to be resolved.

After the betrayal during WWI, Eve escaped into drink, but in1947, Charlie persuades her – mentioning a significant name, René Bordelon – to embark on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads. During that journey, we gradually discover more about Charlie’s relationship with Rose, and more about Eve as she recounts her traumatic career as a spy.

Two other characters play vital roles in that ‘present day’ story: Finn Kilgore, the Scotsman and ex-soldier who looks after Eve. The second character proves to be his Lagonda LG6 in which he drives Eve around and then in which he takes Eve and Charlie on their mission of discovery. Finn obsesses about the car, nurses it through its mechanical problems – but he is a mechanic and more. Plus, he is the second Scotsman in Eve’s life – the first, Captain Cameron recruited her as a secret agent.

How Eve’s relationship with Cameron is resolved parallels Charlie’s involvement with Finn. One of many parallels and contrasts between the two women that weave through the book. Not least René Bordelon, the antagonist that ties together all the evils of both wars – even if he attempts to justify himself.

René is as complex as the other main characters. Cultured or at least coveting the trappings he acquires or desires. His favourite poet – he quotes him obsessively – Baudelaire adds a clever twist in what Lili calls her spies. A phrase echoed by Eve.

“Fleurs du mal,” Eve heard herself saying, and shivered.

“What?”

“Baudelaire. We are not flowers to be plucked and shielded, Captain. We are flowers who flourish in evil.”

Lili is another complex character and Eve’s mentor, friend and confidante. Lili, whose real name is revealed as Louise de Bettignies, was an actual person as was her Alice Network. This true-life story is skilfully told from Eve’s point of view and impacts on the unfolding novel, changing lives over time.

On first meeting Eve – through Charlie’s eyes – she doesn’t appear to be anything like the young determined woman who becomes a spy in 1915. In other novels, I would suspect not – and there have been great examples of switched identities. But not here. Kate Quinn shows how and why the young Eve became the embittered drunk – and yet there are plenty of glimmers of the young Eve under the surface.

Thus, I understood her brief appearance in ‘The Huntress’ – although I hadn’t known who she was.

 “She used to do something unbelievably vague in British intelligence, and people like that are rather good at observing things.”

However, I will say no more about such meetings. There are so many tragic twists as the tale unfolds and I won’t spoil them. Just believe me when I say this story is brilliant – great writing and excellent narration.

Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, this Audible version was an engaging listen. Saskia is able to make every character distinctive – helped by the first-class writing. She brings emotion and pacing to her narration that earns her five stars. Now we’ve finished listening to ‘The Alice Network’, we will listen to the author’s excellent ‘The Huntress’ as they share the same superb narrator.

Five-star recommend doesn’t do ‘The Alice Network’ justice. So, I’m handing the last few sentences to a talented author whose research is meticulous.

“Clearly, women in active fighting zones unsettled their contemporaries, but they still left a legacy behind. Girls of the ’30s and ’40s joined the SOE to train as spies against the Nazis because they had been inspired by books and stories about women like Louise de Bettignies—and they weren’t inspired by her feminine graces. They were inspired by her courage, her toughness, and her unflinching drive, just as I imagined Charlie being inspired by Eve’s. Such women were fleurs du mal indeed—with steel, with endurance, and with flair, they thrived in evil and inspired others in doing so.”


― Kate Quinn talking about The Alice Network

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars

And if you are interested to read more about The Alice Network: https://www.readinggroupguides.com/reviews/the-alice-network

AND

https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_alice_network_links2.html

And for the real Louise de Bettignies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_de_Bettignies

The Huntress – a review

I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing. However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 20 books read from my target of 35.

As for reviews, this will be my ninth Cloak and Dagger review of 2019; with two more to review. Plus, four more outstanding reviews outside the genre.

This may not be trad-crime, but this novel did feel like a thriller to me – with war crimes from the opening page.

The Huntress

by Kate Quinn

From the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestselling novel, THE ALICE NETWORK, comes another fascinating historical novel about a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.

In the aftermath of war, the hunter becomes the hunted… 

Bold and fearless, Nina Markova always dreamed of flying. When the Nazis attack the Soviet Union, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment wreaking havoc on the invading Germans. When she is stranded behind enemy lines, Nina becomes the prey of a lethal Nazi murderess known as the Huntress, and only Nina’s bravery and cunning will keep her alive.

Transformed by the horrors he witnessed from Omaha Beach to the Nuremberg Trials, British war correspondent Ian Graham has become a Nazi hunter. Yet one target eludes him: a vicious predator known as the Huntress. To find her, the fierce, disciplined investigator joins forces with the only witness to escape the Huntress alive: the brazen, cocksure Nina. But a shared secret could derail their mission unless Ian and Nina force themselves to confront it.

Growing up in post-war Boston, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride is determined to become a photographer. When her long-widowed father unexpectedly comes homes with a new fiancée, Jordan is thrilled. But there is something disconcerting about the soft-spoken German widow. Certain that danger is lurking, Jordan begins to delve into her new stepmother’s past—only to discover that there are mysteries buried deep in her family . . . secrets that may threaten all Jordan holds dear.

In this immersive, heart-wrenching story, Kate Quinn illuminates the consequences of war on individual lives, and the price we pay to seek justice and truth.

Review 5 stars

From this novel’s opening with the Huntress deciding to move into the shadows, I was engrossed in the story, the characters, settings, the history and Kate Quinn’s writing.

I was in awe of the writing throughout and discovered another wonderful author to follow. I could see everything unfold as we were introduced to the main players. The novel is told through the senses of three POVs – if you don’t count that brief tempting glimpse into the head of the Huntress in the Prologue.

First, seventeen-year-old Jordan McBride who’s determined to become a photographer post-WWII and is inspired by the likes of Margaret Bourke-White – one of my heroines. She is pleased when her widowed father, who owns a Boston antiques shop, forms a relationship with Austrian widow Annelise Weber – but she is also suspicious. Suspicions that are heightened and dismissed or disproved but stirred up again.

Then, in 1950s West Germany, the reader meets British war correspondent Ian Graham who has become a Nazi hunter, aided by Tony Rodomovky, a ‘Yank’ with Polish-Hungarian blood. But other people want to move on from focusing on Nazi crimes, especially the judges – the focus has shifted onto the ‘Commies’. However, for Ian, finding the elusive Huntress is personal – a reveal not rushed by the author.

Finally, we are in harsh and remote Siberia, where my favourite character, Nina Markova needs to escape her father. Facing tough prospects if she remains, she risks everything to join the legendary Night Witches, an all-female night bomber regiment that wreaked havoc on the invading Germans. Friendships and more are forged amid a terrible struggle to survive a gritty and vicious war.

The research for this character was impressive and I applaud Kate Quinn’s ability to blend fact with an emotional and riveting story. The focus is on the regiment, but Stalin’s cruel regime lurks in the shadows. Nina must manoeuvre between the two despotic forces and carve out a life – with a razor in her oversize boots.

This book, those remarkable aviators, and this character propelled me down a ‘Night Witches rabbit hole’ – and added to my reading list.

The three lives/plotlines gradually weave together, with their different timelines merging. The author doesn’t rush this process but crafts it with domino-events that build. I loved the use of drip reveals. Especially as to how Nina encounters Ian and Tony. Only one of those men is a Russian speaker, and that is a tasty device – one that had me re-reading parts of the book with a grin while writing this review.

The novel uses its various settings from Siberia to Massachusetts to enhance the action and the characters. For instance, lakes play a central role for all three main characters. And to the Huntress whose haven was Lake Rusalka in Poland.

But which of the well-portrayed characters will prove to be the rusalka – a lethal, malevolent water spirit? They are all intricate in their traits and their backstories, yet there are no road-hump info dumps.

The detail was balanced, whether about the main or supporting cast. There was even a brief appearance by a character from ‘The Alice Network’ – although I hadn’t read Kate Quinn’s previous novel at the time. But I nodded when I met her again.

Anyway, the plotlines in ‘The Huntress’ merge, building towards a confrontation that could go different ways – depending on how the complexity of the personalities impacts on events. Revenge can depend on experiences, on abilities. As can justice. So, what can happen and will it? A memorable ending is set up with care. Maybe, there was a dip before that point, and I wanted a faster resolution. Or was I sharing the frustration of being a Nazi hunter? Or do characters need spaces to build their futures?

In summary, I enjoyed the clever plotlines, the complex characters, significant settings, excellent research and writing style so much I want more

A book that’s hard to forget – not that I want to. In fact, I look forward to listening to the Audible version – now I’ve finished listening to the author’s equally engrossing ‘The Alice Network’ and they share a superb narrator.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars