After having read – and loved – the WWII fiction novel Code Name Verity, I started on Rose Under Fire, its sequel, as soon as I had finished the first book. Here’s what I thought!
Rose Justice, an American pilot based in England during WWII, is captured by Nazis and sent to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück. She makes friends with other prisoners who each have horrifying stories to tell about their time in Nazi imprisonment.
What I thought
Rose Under Fire is a much more conventional take on WWII than Code Name Verity. In this second opus, we read about one girl’s terrifying experience of one concentration camp. The descriptions of the horrors endured in the camp are very vivid and this book does not feel like fiction at all.
And with good reason: at the end of the novel there is a passage where Elizabeth Wein explains how she did her research for the book. A lot of the stories told are based on real events! But even without knowing that while reading the novel, I felt true sadness for the prisoners who were gassed, whipped, shot, raped or tested on in the prison camps. If only the events from WWII really were fiction.
Although the book was difficult to read, I was glad to hear about characters from the first book again: it felt a little like seeing old friends! These literary reunions were heart-warming: life does go on, even in wartime. One particular secondary character pops up about halfway through the sequel and surprises you. I didn’t see that one coming!
Rose is a new character who was not a part of Code Name Verity, and her experience of the war is very different from what we read about in the first novel. She is a wonderful character whose spunk and youth make you love her within a few short pages.
However, I do have to say that the beginning of Rose Under Fire went a little too fast for me. After a flight to France, Rose disappears into thin air and her friends and family worry terribly about where she might have gone. She then reappears in Paris after having spent 6 months in a concentration camp, and writes down her story for us to discover. In my opinion, Rose’s disappearance then reappearance from the concentration camp happened too quickly, without giving me enough time to worry about her along with the secondary characters in the book. The story she goes on to tell is terrible and I worried about her plenty while reading it, but the initial disappearance felt rushed.
Another element I had trouble with in this novel was Rose’s poetry. Her character writes a lot of poems while in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. I was probably wrong to, but I often skipped over those parts after having read a few lines. The prose spoke to me far more (as it always does, I am not great with poetry) and the poems seemed a little out of place.
Overall, I preferred Code Name Verity to the second book, as I found it more original, heartbreaking and surprising than Rose Under Fire that seems a little pale by comparison. Still, it stands up alone as a hell of a good book that I also fully recommend. But make sure you read Code Name Verity first!