Book Review: Codename Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Code_Name_VerityFirst published 21st March, 2013 in The Star

Review by DAPHNE LEE


Author: Elizabeth Wein

Publisher: Electric Monkey, 451 pages

I USUALLY have to speed-read books I’m reviewing because I’m too busy to savour every sentence. Sometimes this is a blessing because not all books I review are enjoyable reads. (I usually re-read the good ones later, at a more leisurely pace.)

I knew Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity was one of the good ones from its first paragraph, though, and I actually read the first two thirds of the book fairly slowly despite never having been busier in my life. I think, despite it being a rather harrowing read, I decided that it would serve as welcome respite at the end of the day, when I’d given up on all the writing and editing, when I was dead tired and would have knocked back a gin or two if I actually drank, when I was forced to stop working because the mosquitoes were biting despite the heavily-smoking moon tigers and layers of organic repellent covering every inch of exposed skin.

This morning, despite not having to be up early on account of it being the school holidays, I woke up at 7am anyway so I could finish the book and write this review. I’m afraid I rushed through the final third of the book so I could send this column in. I also couldn’t bear any more suspense.

This is one of the many books that I didn’t get around to reading last year and so, did not include in my best of 2012 list. Otherwise, it would certainly have won the top spot. It’s even more glorious than Seraphina, which was my pick for the best of the best of 2012.

Code Name Verity is the sort of book that’s so exciting that it sometimes makes me forget to breathe. This is not because it’s full of life-or-death action, heart-stopping cliff-hangers and plot twists-and-turns. It’s not all shock-horror-suspense-despair … well, it’s not just shock-horror-suspense-despair. There’s a bit of that, but it’s mostly the wonderful – wonderful! – story of two girls and the friendship that grows between them – blossoms is actually the word I should use, because, despite being a cliché, it’s an appropriate one for this friendship, which is anything but a cliché.

The friendship is the core of the book, and the way Wein delves into it, and into the characters’ hearts and souls, is breath-taking and moving.

I’m putting off giving you actual details about Code Name Verity because I don’t want to give anything away and it’s hard to figure out how much would be too much. I think I shall err on the side of caution and just be sketchy about it. The book is set during World War II. As I’ve mentioned, it’s about two girls. One of them is a pilot. The other is a wireless operator. They both narrate, one after the other, and one of them is thoroughly unreliable, which you may or may not realise (despite the clues) given how compelling and convincing she is. Hmm … I think I may have given something away so I shall stop now. Yes, it’s that sort of book.

After you finish, you will want to read it again, right away – because it’s so damn painful and beautiful, and also because you will want to get the story straight.

Maddie and Queenie, a sensational team. There, I think I’ve said quite enough.

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