Last year I read and enjoyed Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity for Cannonball Read 6 and the Go Fug Yourself Book club on Goodreads. There was much about Wein’s work with that novel that worked very well and the level of craftsmanship in the character and world building as well as the intricacies of the plot put Rose Under Fire, her second book set in the same world, immediately on my to read list for this year. I wish I could say that Rose lived up to Verity.
Rose Under Fire is the story of American Rose Justice, a pilot, just graduated from high school, working for the British ATA ferrying servicemen and supplies around the England. Rose landed her job with the ATA through her uncle’s connections within the RAF and eventually those connections lead her to flying some VIPs to Paris following D-Day. It’s following these events that the story really gets going as we follow a captured Rose into the infamous women’s concentration camp Ravensbruck.
Wein tells us a story that needs to be told and handles it with care. The various characters we meet at Ravensbruck are obsessed with telling the world what has happened to them, as they should be. In putting together this book Wein researched the topic heavily, and as with Verity puts her bibliography in the back of the book so the reader can explore more of the actual history she weaves into her fictionalized account. Wein is telling the world, and using YA literature to spread the message of what we are capable of doing to each other and what we are capable of surviving together. She is ruminating once again on the power of friendship, specifically of female friendship, and the families we make for ourselves. This is all exactly the kind of research and work that would usually earn a four star rating from me.
Unfortunately, there was much missing from this powerful work. In Verity the characters of Maddie and Julie are drawn beautifully and realistically. There is very little about these characters, or the supporting ones around them, that rings false or stinks of deus ex machina, even though the story can veer that way. Unfortunately for Rose there are plenty of things that do. Rose’s last name is Justice for goodness sakes and she is charged with seeking justice for those who perished from her group in the camp! Rose Under Fire is also missing the delightfully intricate plotting that featured so heavily in Wein’s previous work. There is also not nearly enough Maddie, or Maddie as we knew her in Verity. And, in something it shares with Verity, Rose Under Fire starts weakly. Wein is obviously attempting to get us caught up with the events post-Verity, and establish Rose as a character before her time at Ravensbruck, but I found myself mentally twiddling my thumbs waiting for the meaning to show up. With these detractions in place, I’ve bumped my rating down to a 3.5.
Overall consensus? Read it, but with the appropriate expectations.