Today we bring you the latest installment in our feature, “What She Said…” in which we both review books that the other has previously read and reviewed. This feature arose because of a very serious dilemma we faced at Casa De Smugglers: what happens when one of us reads and reviews a book that the other desperately wants to read and review? We can’t really post about the same book AGAIN, right? WRONG! Thus, “What She Said…” was born.
For today’s post, we take on Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (respectively Ana’s and Thea’s favorite books of 2012 thus far).
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion (US)/Egmont (UK), May 2012 (US)/February 2012 (UK), Hardcover: 343 Pages (US)
Original Review: February 2012
Original Rating: 10 (YOWZA!)
What Ana Said:
Above all though, Code Name Verity is about its two main characters, two incredible women (I LOVE them. I.LOVE.THEM) and the friendship they had – they are indeed sensational and I wish I could tell you how or why but I can’t really tell you more about Verity without stealing her thunder. This too, would be unforgivable. It also features one of the best lines about friendship I have ever read, a line that is so simple and so spot on and so true when it came to these two characters, it made me start crying from that moment on:
“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”
Isn’t it just?
What Thea says:
Contrary to popular belief, I actually love historical fiction. I especially love those historical fiction novels that focus on the turn of the 20th century, on war, or on politics (One of my majors was history, after all, with a focus on the collapse of the Concert of Europe, the world wars, and subsequent effects on global politics and economics). When Code Name Verity first came out, in fact, it was meant to be a joint review – alas, due to time constraints (the damned thesis!) I wasn’t able to read the book in time.
I am now very sorry that I didn’t try harder to read and review this book in February, because it is a phenomenal read – one that I thoroughly and wholeheartedly loved with very few reservations.
Code Name Verity is the story of two girls: of a captured scots Special Operations Executive (SOE) spy, who is narrating the story by writing it down in the form of a Confession, information for her Nazi interrogators before she is inevitably sent to her death in the night and fog. It is also this brilliant girl’s story of her best friend, Maddie, an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot, and just how their friendship came to be. As our narrator transcribes her tale, we see two stories. First, of her and Maddy’s blossoming friendship, of radio operators turned pilot and spy, leading up to her imprisonment at the hands of the Gestapo in occupied France. Second, it is the story of our narrator’s ordeal in the Château de Bordeaux – the terror of her torture, of the torture of other captured prisoners around her, the seeping dread that permeates every stolen minute she remains alive, as long as she remains cooperative and collaborative.
Easily, the best, most powerful thing about Code Name Verity is our narrator’s voice. Brilliant, proud, manic and desperate, our narrator spins her tale on scavenged paper – we, readers, want her to survive but at the same time, we don’t want to believe that she is actually collaborating. Under the pain of gruesome torture, we cannot blame her for giving up anything under such extreme duress, but there’s a part of us that wants her to defy the Nazis. There’s a part of us that wants her to be telling lies, to be obscuring the whole truth, to NOT be The Soul of Verity.
I don’t want to say much more, because that would spoil the heartbreaking discoveries along the way that one MUST read for oneself. Suffice it to say, the reveals and truths are muddy things, but so beautifully, painfully executed. Elizabeth Wein holds us readers captive, both our hearts and our souls, and tells this brave, terrible, beautiful story without flinching.
Code Name Verity is brilliant.
There are, however, a few slight, minor reservations. First, is the crushing weight of Expectation (and this, I should say, is NOT the fault of the novel, but rather my own fault): I have read nothing but rave reviews for this book, and while reading this book, I had Ana’s voice in my head telling me that I would NEED THE TISSUES or else I have no soul, and I was steeling myself for That Part of the book that would knock the ever-loving crap out of me. And when I got to That Part That Everyone Talks About, I was of course saddened and devastated…but not to the degree of inconsolability that I was expecting. As I was telling Ana, there is an inevitability to this story – you know that there is no possible way it could have a proper happy ending. Because of my own unfair expectations – again, NOT the fault of the book or author, the blame lies solely with me – I felt like I was bracing for a horrendous eventuality that came, but was less than what I was expecting.1
I don’t know if that makes any sense. I hope it does.
The other things I must mention – Code Name Verity is an epistolary novel. I am not a huge fan of epistolary novels. To me, they are the equivalent of found footage films – inherently they require immense suspension of disbelief (because really, who is going to explain every itty bitty thing in a letter – or hold a camera and film things when facing mortal peril?). This applies to Code Name Verity, because you NEED to suspend disbelief in order to accept the very premise of the novel – that our narrator has been afforded the chance to write out her story (not just a confession or details, but a full bleeding story about her best friend and their history together). It is a rather large pill to swallow, believing that our narrator would not simply have been tortured until she breaks, spitting out whatever information the Gestapo wants, before being executed (or sent to disappear into the night and fog).
These minor criticisms said, I still loved this book so very much. Absolutely recommended, and one of my favorites of 2012 without a doubt.
Rating: 8 – EXCELLENT (and leaning towards a 9)
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic (US & UK), April 2012 (US)/June 2012 (UK), Hardcover: 342 pages (US)
Original Review: April 2012
Original Rating: 9
What Thea Said:
There are many familiar elements to The False Prince, from the trained puppet pretender to the throne aspect, to a sort of prince and the pauper kind of vibe. Of course, the most direct and immediate comparison is to that of Megan Whalen Turner’s much beloved The Thief (but more on that in a bit). For all the the elements of the novel are familiar and the twists predictable, I absolutely ADORED this book and devoured it in a single sitting.
The False Prince is the best book I’ve read in 2012 thus far, and I absolutely cannot wait for book 2 in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended.
What Ana says:
I have been DYING to read The False Prince ever since Thea reviewed it for two reasons: her rating of the book (a rare 9!) and the favourable comparison she made to The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, one of my favourite books of all time. Thea said and I quote:
Sage’s voice and the story of The False Prince at large is incredibly similar to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief and there are undeniable similarities between her Eugenides and our own Sage. But…truth be told? I like Sage and his story a whole lot more. (…) I truly enjoyed The Thief and The Queen of Attolia but lacked any real emotional connection to either Eugenides or his Queen. In The False Prince, though, that connection I so desperately wanted in the aforementioned novels was finally forged – there’s something about Sage’s cocky attitude, with his big heart and sharp intellect that completely won me over from the very beginning.
How could I not want to check this out and see for myself? The problem arises from the fact that unlike Thea, I did form a huge emotional connection to both Eugenides and the Queen of Attolia. In fact, I would go as far as to say that both characters are amongst my all time favourites. So I approached The False Prince under the weight of HUGE expectations and as unfair as it might sound/look, this is what shaped my reading of this book and ultimately this review.
Were those expectations met? Partially: The False Prince IS a very good book but for me, it never crossed that line that makes a book as awesome as The Thief. Perhaps it is because it is so very similar in many ways but ultimately very different where it matters to me.
The similarities stem from the type of main character (cocky, clever, sympathetic ), the type of narrative (Sage is the narrator, supposedly as unreliable as Eugenides) and the type of story: politics-driven with a Twist. I loved Sage – LOVED him. I loved his voice, his cockiness, his competence and his cunning plans. I loved how obviously he cared about people and about the Kingdom of Carthya and when we learn his full story, my heart broke a little bit. Just like Thea, I thought that the tensions surrounding the Kingdom of Carthya and its many power-hungry regents to be believable and well-drawn.
The differences come from the fact that The False Prince never managed to truly surprise me despite its many “twists” and the unreliability of its narrator. I thought all of the former to be pretty obvious and Sage never really fooled me. Thea mentions in her review how many of the elements in the novel are familiar (prince and the pauper/puppet pretender to the throne) and that those didn’t matter to her in the end, given how much she loved the writing and the main characters. I don’t feel the same way – as much as I too, enjoyed the writing style and loved the characters, I was still disappointed by those very familiar elements.
I also have a nit to pick about the premise itself. The next bit is a bit spoilery so avoid the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.
*START OF SPOILER*
My suspension of disbelief was super stretched by how so much hinged on these orphans being able to pull off pretending to be a prince. If the future of your Kingdom and your evil master plan really relied on that, why only train these boys for TWO WEEKS? Boys that couldn’t read, that had no training in fighting or Courtly manners were expected to learn it all in 14 days and well enough to fool just about everybody in the Kingdom? This is all the more problematic considering the revelation of how the death of the Royal Family was not a last minute surprise to Conner at all, if you catch my drift. So surely, he had TIME to prepare better?
*END OF SPOILER*
That said, even in spite of those criticisms The False Prince is a very good book and what makes it stand out is its main character Sage whom I absolutely, completely adored. His voice as well as his relationships with all the other characters (Mott, Imogen, Tobias and the princess) were what made the book come alive to me and on its own terms.
But because the story and its main character do remind me A LOT of The Thief and of Eugenides and in my mind the latter is still a much superior book (there is no beating that twist and the way it is presented), I did feel a little bit underwhelmed. I did enjoy reading it, I do highly recommend it. But I would say this: if you don’t go into it expecting it to be the next The Thief, you might actually end up LOVING it.
And I will just finish it with a thought: let this be a lesson to me. This is the second book this year that I approached with such high expectations after being told their main characters were “just like Eugenides” and it is simply NOT FAIR to those books. I can appreciate how both The Sunbird and The False Prince are very good books on their own but because I did expect the world from them, I ended up underwhelmed and disappointed. Here is a vow: I will try not to make that mistake a third time.2
Rating: 7 – Very Good leaning toward 8
- SPOILER NOTE (highlight to read): I was expecting that Verity would disappear forever, another victim lost to the Night and Fog, or that she would have died in the bombing of the “Chateau”. The actual ending is still harrowing and painful and powerful, but requires significant disbelief to be suspended. /SPOILER NOTE ↩
- THEA’S NOTE: I feel like this is ALL MY FAULT. GAAAAH. Please, please, please let the record show that unlike Ana (and most of the universe), I am not a big fan of The Theif or Gen, or the subsequent The Queen of Attolia. SO when I say in my review that The False Prince is *better than* The Thief, this is my very personal belief. Obviously, if you LOVE Gen and his ilk, then you probably are not going to feel the same way. I feel terrible about creating such crazy expectations. Completely my bad. *hangs head in shame* ↩