Monday, March 18, 2019

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

My usual two books a week has been completely derailed the past few weeks by a busy schedule and two long books I started too late. The Alice Network is a novel I've quite frankly been avoiding ever since it first came out, mostly because I just didn't have the energy to read another World War 2 novel. But tomorrow my book group is discussing this book, so I thought I'd finally read it and be able to talk about it with a group. Only problem is I didn't realize it was almost 500 pages! 

There's a part of me that avoids reading novels that involve women in dangerous situations, and this definitely fit the bill: it centers around the women who were part of the Alice Network, a ring of British and French spies that worked to bring the German Army down in World War 1. Bouncing between 1915 and 1947, we experience the story of Evelyn Gardiner, a young woman who becomes a spy for the British war effort during World War 1. She learns to use her stutter and her ability to speak and understand German to become a waitress at a restaurant run by a super creepy, horrible French man--Rene Bordelon--who is ruthless and so cruel it's hard to read any parts of the story that involve him. He soon becomes obsessed with Evelyn--known as Marguerite, and she is walking a tightrope between safely spying and getting information through the Alice Network, and keeping her self together and keeping Rene from becoming suspicious. Oh, the scenes between Marguerite and Rene are so tense and high strung, I almost had to read them with my hand over my eyes!

Then there's 1947: Charlie St. Claire is 19, pregnant, and on her way to Switzerland to have her "problem" taken care of, thanks to her wealthy parents. She's shamed the family with her behavior at college, and now in a few days she will be able to return home and start all over. Except Charlie can't do that-she's convinced her cousin Rose is still alive, somewhere in France, after World War 2. She's got information that will help lead her to Rose, and she leaps at the chance to escape from her mother and travel to England to hunt down...Evelyn (Eve), who is connected to Rose's fate during World War 2 and is the only link Charlie has on what could be a wild goose chase. 

There's a whole lot going on in this novel, and it is such a good story. The absolute terror, hopelessness, rage, anguish, and terrible loss that war creates permeates the characters; for me, this made it hard to read without taking breaks. Evelyn is a shell of the strong, fearless woman we read about in 1915, and you have to go back to see her story revealed, a little at a time. Charlie is strong, but suffering from grief, worrying about her pregnancy, and determined to find her cousin Rose. I honestly don't know how the world managed to carry on, pick up the pieces, and rebuild after not one war, but two. I will always be in awe of the strength of will it took to survive all of that horror. 

I know I'm late to the game with this novel, and I can see why it's been a popular book group choice. Kate Quinn writes a powerful story, with flawed characters who keep you rooting for them and on edge until the last page. The bad folks are definitely bad, and the good folks are definitely tormented souls. 

If you're looking for an intense, on the edge of your seat read, The Alice Network is for you! 

Rating: 5/6 for a fascinating historical novel about female spies during World War 1, the risks they took to save the world, and the price they paid for their courage. It's also a novel about empowered women, standing up for yourself, staring fear in the face and remaining strong, and deep, unbreakable friendship. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook.


  1. I listened to audio version of this novel last year. Generally, I love historical fiction, but this one was middle of the road for me.