This book was an adventure. It was so good that I literally couldn’t stop reading last night, and finally ended up finishing at around 2 AM. Codename Verity follows the story of two girls working for the Allied powers during World War II. The novel starts out with Queenie, a wireless operator who was discovered as a spy for the Allies when she looked the wrong way down the street (what an awful way to get caught, right??) and was subsequently taken captive by the Gestapo.
At this point in time, Queenie’s been tortured and humiliated– and the torture in this book, while not mentioned too often, is incredibly graphic when it is addressed. Several methods are discussed; there’s a point where the Gestapo threaten to burn out Queenie’s mouth with carbolic acid, and then another point where it’s implied that they’ve stuck pins in her breasts (I actually read about this method of torture once. The flesh under your nails is very sensitive and generally unused to pain, and also full of nerve endings, so sticking pins up there burns like hellfire. Breasts are another sensitive spot on the body.) she talks about how she’s soiled herself several times, she talks about having to watch the Gestapo burn (off?) the fingers and toes of her fellow Frenchmen. She also has marks all along her throat and arms from a hot soldering iron. It’s horrible.
Queenie’s struck a deal with the Gestapo; she’ll write an entire account describing where she came from– everything secret about the Allies that she can divulge– and in return, they’ll let her live for as long as she can write the book. There’s a part in this novel where the head officer, I think his name is von Linden (v.L.) or something, and he refers to her as Sheharzaad– referencing the old Persian tale, 1001 Arabian Nights, where a young woman named Sheharzaad must tell a story to her king every night at risk of being murdered in the morning. It’s very accurate and very tragic.
Queenie’s story is written from the point of view of her best friend, Maddie, a pilot who dropped her off in Nazi-occupied France, but did not survive the plane’s crash landing. One of the first things Queenie learns upon being taken captive is that Maddie is dead. The rest of her memoirs are tainted with this knowledge, and there are several instances at which she gives up writing completely because she’s so overcome with grief. It’s stated that she was made to look upon photographs of the remains of the plane, where she could clearly see Maddie’s charred and lifeless body. Throughout the first part of the book, we learn a lot about Maddie and Queenie’s relationship– how they met, how they supported each other during the most frightening times that the world has gone through, and then of how they lost each other.
Queenie comes off as a haughty, stubborn, and vivacious girl; she’s beautiful and full of life, and she was one of the most interesting female characters that I’ve ever had the good fortune to discover. The thing about Queenie– who’s real name is later revealed to be Julie– is that she’s so, so manipulative and so, so clever. She’s like… I don’t even know how to describe her. A snake? She’s like a viper getting ready to strike. The thing about Julie is that she’s always two steps ahead of the game, as we find out in the second part of the book, which is told from the point of view of Kittyhawk– also known as Maddie, the supposedly dead pilot and Julie’s best friend.
Maddie’s story continues from her own perspective; it’s revealed that the plane did indeed crash, but she made it out alive and nearly got shot by the Allied spies that were meant to meet her in France. After convincing them that she is on their side and discovering that Julie never made it to them, her sole purpose in life becomes finding her best friend. Julie is, from this point on, referred to as Verity: the mind-blowing double agent employed by the Allies, a woman of tens of thousands of masks and hundreds of lies. Honestly, the name Verity fits her so well; it’s such a contrast to her job, which is to fabricate and deceit her way through things. I can’t begin to explain how much I love that her code name is Verity.
The second part of the book is a little slower; Maddie can’t do nearly as much as Verity was doing, because she’s the real wireless operator and not a trained agent. It is revealed in the very beginning of Kittyhawk’s chapter that she accidentally took Verity’s ID card and Verity took hers– which is how Verity gets captured in the first place. She has the ID card of British citizen, which automatically damns her to the Gestapo. God, things get so complicated at this point. During the first part of the book, Verity talks about how all the other prisoners hate her because she’s given out eleven sets of wireless code– betraying the Allied powers in return for an end to the torture. In the second part, we find out that none of the codes she revealed actually existed. She made everything up, and she’s not even a wireless operator! Verity was despised by the other captured Frenchmen and Allied prisoners because she writes out this entire manifesto of everything precious to the Brits, but Maddie clarifies in the second part of the book that literally nothing Verity revealed means anything. She fabricated every single name, every single place, even the aircrafts that Maddie was supposed to have flown! Everything– absolutely everything– is (excuse my language, but) a GD lie. Ha. Ha. Oh my god. It was amazing. I think you have to read the book to really have it hit you but LITERALLY NOTHING YOU READ IN THE BEGINNING IS TRUE. Maddie claims that the only truth in the manifesto is the way that she and Verity met, and how their friendship developed. But none of the people that Verity mentioned actually exist, and the only two places that truly belonged to the Allied powers were already known by the Gestapo, so she didn’t harm anyone by revealing their names. It’s so so great because in the beginning, Verity beats herself up so much about giving away all this information, calling herself a coward and at times, a traitor, claiming that there are those people that think they’re doing God’s work by servicing their country but all she wants is a little more time to live and really SHE PLAYED HER CAPTORS FOR FOOLS and she risked everything.
I don’t want to say too much more about the plotline because it’s confusing, and I’ll probably muck it up, but let me leave you with this: Verity is literally one of the most amazing characters I’ve ever read in a novel. She’s fierce and strong and she refuses to kneel to the Nazis, and it’s so refreshing to read about a truly ferocious woman like her; someone who doesn’t use their fists, but uses the fact that she’s constantly underestimated and constantly overlooked, to her advantage.
Oh man. I actually did shed a few tears during this book, because it’s not a happy story. It’s definitely not that. But it’s so amazing, and if you like WW2 literature PLEASE READ THIS BOOK. Even if you don’t like WW2 literature, READ THIS BOOK! I swore, in eighth grade, that I would never ever read a book that took place during this time ever again because I was so tired of reading sad Holocaust books. This book isn’t about the Holocaust– it’s about the actual war that went on– so if you don’t want to torment yourself by reading stories of Jewish people that are stuck in concentration camps, try this instead. It’s still torment, but it’s a lot more action and a lot less hopelessness.
I love this book. Please, please, do a service to yourself and read it.