Historical Era: 50% WWI and 50% 1947
Historical Rating: History Rich – this story is heavily based on the real lives and activities of female spies, particularly during WWI.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
Book Jacket Summary: “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 again 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, code name Alice, 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. That is 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.”
HFA Review: Eve is the best character in the book and she explodes onto the page and into the story with her rough and tough, life hardened, screw-you-all nature. And she never slows down. The book alternates every other chapter between Eve Gardiner’s story, WWI female spy part of the “Alice Network,” and Charlotte “Charlie” St. Clair’s story line, pregnant college girl desperate to find her cousin (and help heal gaping wounds after tragic losses during and after WWII), which leads her to Eve’s doorstep. Charlie’s story line was a little slower to get going, but it proved almost as enjoyable, sweet, and heartbreaking as Eve’s.
Kate Quinn did an excellent job setting up the nail-biting tension for Eve’s story through the simple introduction of Eve’s hands in the very first chapter. Her hands are badly mangled, to the point it makes Charlie almost gag when she first meets her. Eve’s hands are not that way, quite lovely in fact, when she is first recruited to become a spy in 1915. As the story progresses, and Eve meets Lili (the leader of the “Alice Network”), Violette (a fellow spy and Lili’s right hand girl), and Rene (her mark, war profiteer, and owner of a restaurant popular among high ranking German officials) the energy, excitement, and intensity of the story grows with every chapter. By knowing at some point something awful is going to happen to Eve and destroy those beautiful hands, and as Eve gets deeper and deeper with consequences growing with every risk, the imagination of how it’s going to happen, when, and why keeps the pages turning. In fact, Charlie’s story is almost a welcomed relief as a breath of fresh air before diving back into the world of Eve and the Alice girls (who are just as fun, bright, and lovable), France, Germans, spies, and the harsh realities of WWI.
In Charlie’s story, Eve is in her 50’s and badly beaten up by her past. Charlie is the antithesis of Eve and a reminder of what Eve used to be – full of life, innocent, ready to take on the world for something she believes in. Charlie comes to Eve after she learns Eve understands and knows about some of the pieces left in the broken trail of her missing cousin, Rose. Eve is begrudgingly dragged into the search along with Eve’s Scottish “man of all work” (driver/chef/sanity keeper), Finn Kilgore. Finn is a little older than Charlie and a veteran of the recent war. These three set off on Rose’s trail, driving through the French countryside in Finn’s Lagonda. With careful plotting and overall skillfully crafted build-up, it becomes clear that these three need each other more than they realize to steer past the damage done by the war(s) that has ravaged their lifetime. It sounds cliche, and in other books this similar set up is often off-putting due to the unrealistic or forced nature, but Ms. Quinn strikes a believable balance.
The only imperfections found in this story lie in Charlie’s story. First, Charlie is given some unique qualities that make her stand out for a girl living in 1947, particularly her strong mathematical abilities and the fact she’s pregnant because she used sex as means to check out from the pain in her life. The pregnancy piece is tightly woven into the story enough to justify that part of the story line. The mathematical part, which was highly intriguing and a fun twist to her character, was not really touched on after the first few chapters. Had this element been brought into Charlie’s story more thoroughly, it could have given that brilliant finishing touch to Charlie’s character as Eve’s hands did for her character. Second, the answer to the Rose question, dead or alive, came a little too soon. Thankfully, it didn’t deter too much from the story and Eve’s plot line was easily able to carry the book to the finish, a long with how the relationships between Charlie, Finn, and Eve would shake out in the end. Had the Rose question been somehow worked into the climax in Grasse, France, the two stories could have blown up the page together reaching a beautiful crescendo and adding more twists to the ending.
Overall, this book was an easy, enjoyable, and edge-of-the-seat read. There is a reason this book has been so highly reviewed. If you like female driven stories taking place during the two great wars, you will enjoy The Alice Network.
Historical Content: This book is rated “History Rich” due to the information given in the author’s notes at the end of the novel. According to the information presented, Lili is based on real-life spy during World War I, Louise de Bettignies. Louise’s code name was Alice and she ran The Alice Network. Lili and Violette, though given different code names in the book, were real people and much of their actions and character were based on their real counterparts. Eve is made up, though inspired by people and events that were later written about in books documenting the amazing feats carried off by Louise de Bettignies and her fellow spies during WWI. These women are true heroes in their own right and sadly their stories are mainly lost in the pages of history. After reading about the real Alice Network, I’m glad Ms. Quinn chose to write about these women, even in this fictionalized account, to help ensure their legacy is not forgotten.
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2017
Pages: 503 (including the Author’s Notes)