Harper Collins| 18 March 2021| 645 pages| 3*
1940, Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire.
Three very different women are recruited to the mysterious Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes.
Vivacious debutante Osla has the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl, working to translate decoded enemy secrets. Self-made Mab masters the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and the poverty of her East-End London upbringing. And shy local girl Beth is the outsider who trains as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts.
Seven years after they first meet, on the eve of the royal wedding between Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip, disaster threatens. Osla, Mab and Beth are estranged, their friendship torn apart by secrets and betrayal. Yet now they must race against the clock to crack one final code together, before it’s too late, for them and for their country.
I have very mixed thoughts about The Rose Code. On the one hand it’s just the sort of book I love – historical fiction with a thrilling story and interesting characters that kept me wanting to read on and yet also made me want it to last as long as possible. On the other hand, it’s unevenly paced, with a slow start and a rushed ending that was somewhat of an anti-climax. My favourite character was Beth and I enjoyed reading how her character developed from a shy down trodden young woman into a brilliant cryptanalyst.
But when I first began reading it earlier this year I stopped after the opening pages and only picked it up again a couple of weeks or so ago. I initially stopped as the storyline involving Prince Philip made me very uncomfortable – Prince Philip was still alive when this book was written and when I first started to read it. He died in April this year.
The book begins in 1947 as Osla Kendall, a journalist working for the Tatler, is wondering what to wear for the Royal Wedding. She is in a ‘foul mood‘ as she wonders what to wear to the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten.
Historical fiction mixes fact and fiction with both real and imaginary characters and I don’t have a problem with that. The character of Osla Kendall is based on a real person – in her Author’s Note Kate Quinn writes that she is ‘lightly fictionalized from the real-life Osla Benning, a beautiful, effervescent, Canadian-born heiress and Hut 4 translator who was Prince Philip’s long-term wartime girlfriend.‘ But by the time of the Royal Wedding Osla Benning was already married, not pining after Prince Philip. In writing their story Kate Quinn was not writing from facts but from her imagination as she put words in her characters’ mouths and described their emotions thoughts and feelings, which, of course, she could not have known.
However, I got over my dislike and read on – after all, this is fiction, not an accurate historical account. I like to know which is fact and which is fiction when I read historical fiction. So, after reading the review copy I received via NetGalley, I decided I needed to buy the published book and read the Author’s Note. And I’m glad did because I was relieved to find that Kate Quinn goes into a lot of detail to identify which characters are real and which fictional and how she has fictionalised them. She also reveals that she has also deviated from the historical records ‘to serve the story.’ I think this explains why I was uncomfortable with the book and why I don’t often read historical romances.
With thanks to NetGalley and to the publishers for my review copy.