Saturday, November 25, 2017

Unraveling the Complexes


The Alice Network by Kate Quinn


During the first World War, the British government employed many people as spies in German-occupied Europe, and many of them were women. One of those women was code-named Alice DuBois (who preferred to be called Lili), and became their "Queen of Spies," managing an underground slew of informants that became known as the Alice Network. After the second World War, Charlotte (aka Charlie) St. Clair is searching for her missing cousin, which brings her to Evelyn Gardiner, one of the women in that network. These two set out on a journey, together with Evelyn’s driver and helper Finn Kilgore, not only to find Charlie’s cousin, but also to resolve unanswered questions from both devastating wars.

Yet again, I find myself of two minds about a novel. On the one hand Quinn writes this novel with true aplomb, where the excitement grows into veritable fireworks for the climax scene. Mind you, I think Quinn’s pacing accelerated somewhat slower in the book than I would have liked, and for most of the book I would say it felt like the tension built at a carefully insistent pace. However, when I got to about the 80% mark, that speed increased into something absolutely exhilarating. (Admittedly, before I got to that point, I was wondering if I could give this even four stars.) With this, I was surprisingly pleased with how Quinn carefully slowed that rhythm down for the aftermath and conclusion of the story. This fast let-down could have felt much more abrupt, but I think it was the perfect antidote to the almost frenzy that Quinn worked up to prior to that.

As for Quinn’s writing style, I found this mostly transparent, which allowed the characters and the plot to shine through, with a few jarring things sprinkled throughout the text. For example, it didn’t feel comfortable with Charlie referring to her being pregnant as having gotten “knocked up.” It isn’t that this slang didn’t exist back then, because it did. However, I think that Charlie probably would have used some other, more delicate euphemism early in the book, and only allowed herself to use this lower-class sounding slang after her increased exposure to Evelyn’s very rough-and-tumble personality which came with some outright vulgar vocabulary.

However, what struck me the most was how Quinn developed her three main characters. Quinn made sure that all three of them were very sympathetic, realistic and humanly flawed. Although neither Evelyn nor Finn seemed terribly lovable to begin with, there was something about them both that felt worthy of giving them a chance, and they certainly grew on me by the end of the novel. In fact, all three of them start out at one place in their lives and change throughout the story in one way or another. However, I did feel Quinn allowed some inconsistencies to creep in here. For example, there were times when I thought that Charlie’s part in the story felt superfluous, only for her to come back into the fore later. Also, I felt the title of book was a bit misleading, because the story didn’t give me more than a second-hand view of Louise de Bettignies, the “Alice” of the network, where I was expecting we’d get at least something from her viewpoint. This is my biggest bone of contention with this book, the fact that we aren’t served what was on the menu.

Of course, this isn’t to say that this isn’t an absorbing novel, because it is. Quinn artfully melds Charlie’s search for her cousin and Evelyn’s fascinating (and sometimes horrifying) past, making for an excellent plot basis, which Quinn respectfully and notably develops, practically irrespective of Alice/Louise/Lili and her famous network of spies. My problem is that Quinn piqued my interest about this amazing “Queen of Spies,” and after learning about her (mostly in the afterward), I wished this book had focused more on her exploits and life. Sadly, from what I can see, that historical fiction book hasn’t yet been written. Despite this, I can still recommend this book warmly and give it a solid four out of five stars.



The Gale Group of William Morrow released "The Alice Network" by Kate Quinn in June 2017. This book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books (USA, Canada & Australia), Kobo audio books (USA, Canada & Australia), eBooks, iTunes (iBook or audiobook), The Book Depository (free worldwide delivery), new or used from Alibris or Better World Books as well as from an IndieBound store near you. I would like to thank author Elisabeth Storrs for giving me this book via her ‘Inspiration Newsletter’ giveaway contest!

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