feature: Life Stories in Literature

Review: “The Rose Code” by Kate Quinn

The Rose Code by Kate Quinn

  • Audible Audio, 2021
  • Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

Highly Recommended

Cover: The Rose Code by Kate Quinn (audio version)

The year 1940. As England prepares to fight the Nazis, three very different women answer the call to mysterious country estate Bletchley Park, where the best minds in Britain train to break German military codes. Vivacious debutante Osla is the girl who has everything – beauty, wealth, and the dashing Prince Philip of Greece sending her roses – but she burns to prove herself as more than a society girl and puts her fluent German to use as a translator of decoded enemy secrets. Imperious, self-made Mab, product of East End London poverty, works the legendary codebreaking machines as she conceals old wounds and looks for a socially advantageous husband. Both Osla and Mab are quick to see the potential in local village spinster Beth, whose shyness conceals a brilliant facility with puzzles, and soon Beth spreads her wings as one of the Park’s few female cryptanalysts. But war, loss, and the impossible pressure of secrecy will tear the three apart.

The year 1947. As the royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip whips post-war Britain into a fever, three friends-turned-enemies are reunited by a mysterious encrypted letter – the key to which lies buried in the long-ago betrayal that destroyed their friendship and left one of them confined to an asylum. A mysterious traitor has emerged from the shadows of their Bletchley Park past, and now Osla, Mab, and Beth must resurrect their old alliance and crack one last code together. But each petal they remove from the rose code brings danger – and their true enemy – closer….


One of my reading goals for this year was to read more historical fiction, and this choice is definitely a winner. I’ve listened to the audiobooks of two of Quinn’s earlier novels—The Alice Network (2017) and The Huntress (2019)—so I had high expectations for this one. The Rose Code not only met but exceeded my expectations.  

This is a Big Book: The hardcover edition contains 624 pages that provide Quinn ample space to develop the three main characters, Osla, Mab, and Beth. Quinn’s great strength as an author of historical fiction is her ability to create both interesting, well-rounded characters, and the vivid settings and circumstances in which they’re enmeshed. 

Despite the book’s length, the story never flags. The intricate plot makes good use of the war setting’s emphasis on urgency and secrecy to create and maintain suspense.

Life Stories in Literature




we are what we remember

inside vs. outside stories


hidden identities & secrets


creating/controlling one’s own narrative

cultural appropriation

alternate life options

alternative selves

turning points/life decisions

when/how lives intersect

multiple points of view

rewriting history

change your story, change your life

The novel’s length also allows it to explore fully the many Life Stories in  Literature themes that form its backbone. The lives of three young women, initially so different in class and aspirations, all intersect in their work at Bletchley Park. There, the circumstances of history allow each to recognize and develop her particular skills in working together toward both personal and national goals. All of the book’s characters are changed by their experiences during this dramatic period in history.

Reading the novels of Kate Quinn has raised my interest in further exploring historical fiction, a genre that I have read only sporadically in the past. I’m glad I picked up a paperback copy of Quinn’s 2022 novel The Diamond Eye the last time I was in a bookstore.

Related Resources

Historical fiction from Five Books

Jacqueline Winspear Considers the Art of Historical Fiction

© 2023 by Mary Daniels Brown

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