Saturday, 4 November 2017

Book Review: THE ALICE NETWORK by Kate Quinn

Author: Kate Quinn
HarperCollins Publishers Australia
November 2017
My Rating: 🌟🌟🌟1/2

We are flowers who flourish in evil.

Book Description:

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 matter where it leads.

My musings:

Who doesn’t like a good suspenseful spy story, especially one that’s based on real historical figures? It was a no-brainer that I absolutely had to read The Alice Network after discovering it is centred around the true story of a spy network of women based in the German occupied town of Lille in France during WWI.

Quinn uses a dual timeline format to connect her two main characters. One, set in 1915, tells the story of Evelyn (“Eve”) Gardiner, a plucky young British girl who joins the war effort as a female spy to gather intelligence in German occupied France. There she becomes part of the famous Alice Network, led by the true historical figure of Louise de Bettignies, a well-known French secret agent during WWI (also known under her pseudonym Alice Dubois). The other, set in 1947, features young Charlotte St Clair (“Charlie”), a disgraced privileged American girl, who travels to France to track down her beloved cousin Rose who has been missing since the war. As the two women’s paths intersect, we get to find out more about Eve’s history as a secret agent, which has left her a broken woman, and witness Charlie’s coming of age as she sets out on her quest.

I absolutely loved Eve’s story and found the details about the Alice Network and its secret agents utterly fascinating, especially the author’s postscript detailing the true historical events the story is based on. How courageous were these women! And whilst Eve is a fictional character, she blended in well with her “real-life” companions – and who knows, there may have been a similar background to the “real” Marguerite Quinn used as inspiration for her character. Even the older Eve rang true for me, damaged and broken as she was from her wartime experiences. I could imagine that life after the war would not have been easy for those courageous women who managed to survive, but had seen and done unimaginable things for their country. Louise must have been one amazing lady, I ended up reading up on her on the web after finishing this book and would love to read a whole book devoted to her!

Whilst I admire the author for conjuring up a link between her two female protagonist that spans both World Wars, sadly Charlie’s story did not hold the same interest for me as Eve’s, and there were times when I struggled to keep my focus during Charlie’s chapters. Whilst Eve seemed to be able to step out of the pages as real as her historical counterparts, Charlie seemed a bit fake to me, her speech more befitting a 21st century teenager than a girl brought up in the 1940’s. Whilst I realise this is fiction, some of the little inaccuracies still niggled at me, and distracted from Eve’s chapters, and I found myself skipping a lot of Charlie’s story to get back to Eve’s. Unfortunately Charlie’s story was very loooong, and contained a somewhat clichΓ©d romance on top of it all - ugh! A bit of editing may have done wonders here, as there were some fascinating parts that were worth exploring, such as the story of the massacre that wiped out an entire French village during WWII. I also enjoyed the premise of seeing Eve in her older age, trying to lay her demons to rest, and able to help young Charlie in her quest. My issues were just with the “fillers” in Charlie’s story, the parts that didn’t add much to the overall plot but dragged the book out and made me impatient to get back to Eve’s story.


All in all, The Alice Network was an captivating and original story centered around a real female spy network during WWI that held my interest and kept me eagerly turning the pages for more. Whilst Charlie’s chapters did not intrigue me nearly as much, other readers may enjoy her chapters (including the romance) a lot more than I did. If you are a history buff and love to read books set during either of the world wars, this one is definitely worth picking up for the historical detail it contains and the unique spin on a story that isn’t told nearly as often as it deserves to be. 

Thank you to Netgalley and HarperCollins Australia

 for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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