Do you know that feeling when you read a really good book, and then pick up the second book in the series or a different book by the same author and end up disappointed? I was a bit hesitant to pick up Rose Under Fire, Elizabeth Wein’s follow-up novel to the wonderful Code Name Verity, afraid of another second book let-down. And Code Name Verity was a hard book to follow up on–the intricate plotting, the sharing of small details, the robust characterization, the chemistry of the friendship, and that one scene (if you’ve read it, you know what I’m talking about)–but Wein didn’t disappoint. Rose Under Fire was a different book than Code Name Verity, telling a wider and arguably darker story by flying us into Ravensbrück, a women’s concentration camp in Germany.
Rose Under Fire still shares a lot with Code Name Verity–female pilots, the focus on friendships, and spunky, well-rounded female characters. Rose Under Fire also brings back a major character as a supporting character, bringing a bit more closure to the original story. We’re introduced to Rose Justice, a young, American pilot who grew up in Pennsylvania flying planes and going to Girl Scout camp, who crosses the Atlantic to join the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) in Britain. There are hints that World War II is drawing to a close, as well as some disturbing rumors about concentration camps and unthinkable medical experimentation coming out of Germany.
Rose finally finagles her way into a flight to France, but disappears on the return trip, forced to land by German fighter pilots and sent away to Ravensbrück. While in Ravensbrück, Rose is adopt by a group of Rabbits, Polish women and girls who survived horrific, inhumane medical experimentation at the hands of the Nazis, who form a small family group in order to survive. Like Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is written as a collection of journal entries, a few letters from a friend, poetry, and a magazine article. Most of Rose’s experience in Ravensbrück is shared in retrospect by a Rose who has just escaped the camp, unable to function in her newfound freedom and trying to make some sense out of what happened to her.
I didn’t need to worry–Rose Under Fire surpassed my expectations. As I stated earlier, the story told was wider. The first book was the story of a friendship between Maddie and Julie. There is no defining relationship in Rose Under Fire, but rather many friendships that helped these women survive horrific circumstances. Rose Under Fire has more characters, but all of them remain well-rounded, real people. Instead of the emotional shock of Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire was in some ways a quieter, but more horrifying book that is trying to witness and recognize the horrors of the Holocaust. Yet, despite its dark subject matter, it leaves readers with a sense of hope. Rose remains a charming, honest, sympathetic narrator who manages to share a horrible story while pointing out the places where humanity survives–a poem, a shared piece of bread, hiding a friend, moments of humor, or a secretly embroidered handkerchief.Rose Under Fire works well as a follow-up/semi-sequel, but it would be equally as good as a stand-alone book. It’s not an easy book to read, but I highly recommend it!
I received an ARC of Rose Under Fire through NetGalley. Rose Under Fire was published June 3, 2013 in the UK and will be released on September 10, 2013.