Code Name Verity

What an awful book. That was the first thing I thought after I finished it. What a horribly fucking awful book. I never swear in my reviews but I do now. What a horribly fucking awful book. I might as well have cut my own heart out instead of reading it – the result would’ve been the same. So, naturally, it was an amazing story.

It all takes place during World War II. Two English women (sorry, one English woman and one Scottie) uses what gifts’ they have to help in the war. That means that Maddie are flying her planes and her best friend, with her natural faking abilities, turn into the perfect spy. Together they leave England to fly in over Nazi-occupied France where Maddie is to drop off her friend, code name Verity. But they’re hit in the air and Maddie makes her friend jump off while she’s trying to land the plane. Once on the ground, Verity is soon captured by the German Gestapo and taken prisoner. Now in enemies hand’s, Verity has no other choice then to cough up the truth or be executed.

Slowly throughout the story, Verity tells her tale while confessing everything she knows to the Germans. You get to follow her and Maddie’s friendship told by Verity but seen from Maddie’s point of view. And in between the tale of two women doing what they can for their country and at the same time building a strong relationship, you hear Verity’s fears and what she’s most afraid off. How she longs to go home and how she’s afraid she’ll never get back. She talks about courage and hope and failure, all the things that goes through your head when you’re a captured spy on enemy territory. But how much will it cost her to reveal all her secrets?

Thinking about how to explain how this book is, what this book is, makes me speechless. Like there’s no words in the world to explain what kind of story this is. Code Name Verity is, in one word, a masterpiece. But that just doesn’t seem to be enough. It is so much more than that. It is a rainbow of love and hope and friendship, of a bond that will never break and two people who would do anything, anything, for each other.

Sometimes I look at a novel and I see just that. A book, with a cover and a picture on it, pages, white pages with black ink on it. Nothing more. Just what it really is – pages and ink. And then I open it up and I read and it isn’t just pages and ink, it’s a story. It’s a whole other world with people who have feelings, fears and happy memories and love towards one another. And it’s just amazing how you can put something like that confined in pages and ink. Something that, for so many people, look boring. But when you open it up there’s nothing boring with the content. Code Name Verity was like that for me. I can’t believe that this heart wrenching story has been kept confined in my book pile for all these months. I can’t even remember when I got it, but I know I will never forget the story now.

It is, simply, amazing. Elizabeth Wein has created something extraordinary. And the thing is, when I thought about it, really thought about it, there’s nothing in the novel that really stood out. This is so hard to explain, but, it wasn’t like when you read the back of a book and This is about a girl who is chosen to save the world or This is about a boy who saves people from evil villains. This is just the story about a friendship, but what a friendship. It felt like the novel didn’t need That One Thing That Define The Whole Tale because the story wasn’t really about the airplanes or the spything or the Gestapo or the Resistance. It was about the relationship between two women. Between two best friends. Between Maddie and Verity and what that friendship meant for them.

The whole thing is remarkable, in so many ways, but I won’t discuss it all here or we’ll be here for the rest of the night. What I will say, however, is that I love how it was written. Not just the language in itself, but that it was told through Verity’s written confession to the Gestapo. And though captured and as good as dead anyway, she is a cracker. She made me laugh more than once and I loved that, I truly loved that. It’s such a serious book with so many real and horribly horrible feelings that it felt good to laugh once in a while. I think Wein has made a good job of that, weigh it all up.

It feels like there’s not really anything more I can say about this, because no matter how hard I try (and I’ve been trying hard for a while now) I still can’t set words to all the things this novel made me feel. I loved it and it broke my heart but it was amazing and my oh my will I recommend this to anyone. It is a very special book. One who’s equal you’ll never meet. I’m glad I read it and I’m ever so thankful to Elizabeth Wein for writing it. It is a star shining brightly on the sky and lest we forget.

His fair assassin – Grave Mercy

I had a very nice spell there for a while were I really liked stories circling around assassins. Not quite sure why though, maybe because those stories (well the ones I’ve come across, anyway) are so different from real life. I had a little pile of them and Grave Mercy was among the lot but I decided to wait a while to read it. Too much of the same things can get boring after a while and I’m glad I waited. It made me appreciate it even more when I finally read it.

In Grave Mercy we meet a young girl named Ismae who is married off to a much older man by her father. But Ismae, who has always been different, was born to do something else and be someone else than a wife in an arranged marriage. She escapes to the safety in the convent of St. Mortain – the saint of death. Once there, Ismae learns that she is one of the daughters of death himself and that she is set out to serve him, something she gladly does. Raised in a world were women mean nothing, and being mistreated by men all her life, Ismae embrace her new life. In the convent, she’s taught how to defend herself, how to kill men with and without blades and how to cook up poisons. She spends years honing her skills and is finally sent out on a real task to serve her dark god. But out in the real world Ismae soon realizes that not everything is as her convent has taught her and sometimes you have to choose your own path.

This story, written by Robin LaFevers, is set out in the 1500th century and tells the tale of a time when women was nothing more than accessory to men, when you served different gods and when war came on horseback. Writing stories like this is difficult, because it has to be done carefully. You must have a language that fits the time and know historical details, if only in clothing, food and housing. I am pleased to say that LaFevers did an excellent job with all this. The language is different from what I’m used to, not the way you spoke five hundred years ago, but not the way we speak today, either. A nice compromise that really gave a nice touch to the story. A good book is so much more than just a good idea and LaFevers really showed that.

LaFevers novel, so well-crafted, is everything I hoped it would be and more. She has created some amazing and strong characters that carry this wonderful story and the scenery is rich without being too much. It is the story about Ismae and her life, the change for a farmer’s child to the daughter of death and all that she learns on her journey. The book is packed with mystery and suspense, as well as love, friendships and sacrifices. It is a story that indeed has everything, including good and fluid language.

The only negative thing I can say about the novel is that I had a little trouble getting into it at first. I knew right away that this, this was good, but I still couldn’t make that breakthrough, when you just read and read and read without paying attention to anything else. There was always something else that made me put the book down and I can’t say if that’s because of the novel itself or because of the stress of this month. Anyway, it took me some time to finish the book but when I did, I did it in a rush. Maybe that’s why I feel like the end was too short, that too much happened too fast and I didn’t have time to linger over details. Or maybe the end itself was rushed – I don’t know. It was something that disappointed me though, along with not learning more about the characters fates when the novel ended. It was just the first book in the line of few, though told for different characters viewpoint, so maybe I’ll find something there when I read them. Because I will most definitely come back to His fair assassin and Robin LaFevers. It was like taking a trip back in time and books like that are, after all, very hard to find.

What is hidden

I absolutely love magical stories that are on the brink of being fairy tales. The good and the evil, stories placed in worlds so different from the one I’m living in, fantasies of true love and happily ever afters. This world, our world, can be so cruel. Reading these types of stories gives me hope that there might be something beautiful out there for me as well and if not, well, at least I get to escape the real world for a moment. That is why What is hidden caught my eye.

In a land called Venesia, eighteen year old Evie work as a mask maker alongside her father. Every person in Venesia wears a mask to cover up their face, something they’ve done for a very long time. The masks doesn’t just hide a person’s face, but also tell the rank of the wearer. When people are punished for a crime they get their mask taken away from them and is left shackled up on a square for everyone to see. So when the notorious Chameleon, who steals masks and people’s identities, breaks into Evie’s home, takes all the masks in her shop, murder her father and brand Evie with his own Mark to frame her for the crime, everything is falling apart. Suddenly Evie has nothing, no home and no family and nowhere to go. But Evie is stubborn and doesn’t give up. Knowing that the Chameleon is going to get caught one day she goes into hiding at the royal palace while plotting how to get out of the mess he put her in and get her life back. But Evie soon learns that more than one secret is hidden behind the palace walls.

This is a novel I had great, great hopes for. It had such potential when I first heard about and I was instantly intrigued. It was promised to be something of a Cinderella story and I loved the idea of a society hiding behind masks and what happens if you suddenly lose the only thing you have to go anywhere and do anything in the city. But alas, I was very disappointed when I finished.

Already a few chapters in part of me feared that this wasn’t going to be as good as I’d hoped. The novel isn’t very long, not nearly 250 pages, and while you shouldn’t judge a story by how many pages it has it was absolutely impossible not to when the adrenaline from the first event had settled down and the book moved into a boring phase of the same event happening over and over again. And as I read, and the novel shrunk down, all I could think was “when will the explosion come?”. It was a long wait of cleaning plates and fighting practice and while reading that my mind worked out every possible outcome, so when I finally reached the part where things started to happen for real, I practically already knew what was going to happen.

The story starts slowly with getting to know Evie and her normal, every-day life. It then progresses to the attack on her home and how she sneaks her way into the palace and makes a new life there. For the longest of time (something like half the book) Evie just works as a maid in the kitchen, cleaning and serving, when she isn’t in her basement room with her good friend Aiden where he teaches her how to fight. This is something he believes she needs to know (and he has a point, but as I reader, I soon figured out that the skills he taught her was something that would pop up later in the book when the story drew closer to its conclusions, and I wasn’t wrong about that, either). It was dull though, to hear her doing the same thing week after week.

Now, during all this time when Evie is just waiting for news about the Chameleon so she can come out of hiding, one would think that she would mourn all that she lost. If I lost my family and my job and my home and my pet all in one night, I would be quite upset. But Evie just cries a few tears and shove it all away, thinking that if she lingers on it, she will break apart completely. She is on to something there, but I wonder, if someone goes through the same trauma as Evie did, can you just put it aside? Granted every person is different, but I still got really annoyed at the lack of reaction from Evie. She put it all behind her like it didn’t bother her in the slightest and what kind of messages does that send out? That you should magically get over the loss of a parent, the only home you’ve ever had and your entire future during one night? It might sound easy and nice to shove your feelings aside, but it’ll do you no good and I hated how easy it was for Evie to pretend that the life she lived in the palace was the life she’d always lived and that she wasn’t sad at all. It felt both like a lie and that she’d never cared about her father and thus neither for his death, which made me like her a lot less.

The only person who knows Evie’s real identity, when she moves into the palace, is her friend Aiden. He tries to help and support her all he can, but there was something with him that I didn’t like either, though in this case I’m not really sure what it was. He was nice, too nice, bordering on a push-over. If this was Cinderella, then Aiden would be the fairy godmother. If this was a TV-series set in our timeframe, then Aiden would be the friendzoned guy who is so obviously in love with the female lead character. I don’t really like the phrase “man up” but that’s really what I wanted him to do. And of course, in the end, he turned from the super nice, trusting best friend to a scared child to the knight in shining armor. There was not one part of Aiden that I liked. Except maybe his taste in dresses.

Another thing with the size of the novel that made me a bit worried beforehand was how the world building would be. Usually when a novel is short the author focuses on the story itself and ignores details like smells and clothes and weather, the things that makes the story come alive. I dislike that, when I read I want the full experience, I want so many details that I feel like I’m walking around in that world myself and I can feel the sun on my skin and the smell of salt water and hear the seagulls. Lauren Skidmore did not deliver enough details for me to feel like I was in the story, rather than just reading it. She did pay attention to the masks and how they looked and quite often the dresses as well, but not much more than that. I had a somewhat good view over the part of the palace where Evie lived, but when she walked around in new parts I usually found that we jumped from one hallway to another without me really knowing how we got there in the first place. The same went for the epic battle scene in the end. Somehow Evie and Aiden was surrounded by twenty armed men but still found a way to have a conversation while Aiden occasionally fought a man who came a bit too close.

Like I said in the beginning, I like fairy tales and especially retold ones, new versions of old classics. I have nothing against the romance, but I’m really bothered when cruel, harsh scenes, like fighting scenes, is getting overlooked by a love story that waited until the last minute to spark up. There’s nothing worse when a battle is belittled by the fair maiden crying out to the knight to watch out and simply standing there. Either she joins the battle and fight with the knight or she move over to a corner and shut up. There's a time and a place for everything and a sword fight really isn't the place to talk about all the secrets you've kept hidden for so long. If you’re going to have a battle in your story then write it the right way or leave it out all together.

As you surely can tell, this novel turned out to be nothing that made my heart skip a beat – rather the other way around. It had so much potential and yet it turned out to something so bleak. The whole story was weak, even the ending. There was no spark and no fight, neither in the story itself of in the characters. There’s not one part of me that wants to reread this book ever again.