The Alice Network

Author: Kate Quinn
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks

Goodreads Summary: 1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She's also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie's parents banish her to Europe to have her "little problem" taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she's recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she's trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the "Queen of Spies", who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy's nose.

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn't heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the matter where it leads.

My Thoughts: Maybe because I just read the first Maisy Dobbs book but for some reason I was under the impression The Alice Network was going to be along that series of charming with a touch of the seriousness of the war. I didn't actually realize it was historical fiction until I was well into the book! So while the book is much darker than I anticipated it was also much richer, especially once I realized many of the characters were real people.  Kate Quinn's afterword is especially important as she explains exactly what she took liberties with and what was based in fact- a must read after you finish the novel! 

Both Evelyn and Charlie face the challenges that women in their eras faced- judgment and control from parents, expectations of what it meant to be a "lady", and feeling powerless as the world went to war. I thought it was very effective how we see Evelyn at the very beginning of her spy recruitment, wide-eyed but determined and then the next chapter we jump ahead to her decades later, bitter and haunted. It takes the novel for the middle part of her story to slowly unfurl but the reader understands with a little dread that something goes terribly wrong since we've seen the effects once Charlie meets her in 1947. 

Charlie has her own mystery to solve and this plot is less intriguing but does tie the story together. She last saw her cousin Rose as a child so it makes sense that her memories of her are hazy and that she seems like a novel character. Rose was beautiful but feisty, a heroine that stood for what was right. This would be a child's view of a cousin they idolized and you can see how Charlie has clinged onto the one thing in her life that may have hope. 

As far as the real story, I loved how complete the character of Evelyn was as Quinn herself points out that historically female spies have either been portrayed as the virtuous lady or the whore. Having a strong, brave woman who was doing whatever it took to get the job done is not how we've been presented with the image of the spy in the past. She goes into more detail with the afterword but points out that even in commemorating women like Louise de Bettignies (Lili) descriptions have always made it clear that she kept her morals or was pretty or other terms that make it clear she was a lady. As if she was gathering secrets over tea and passing notes in her handbag before retiring in her petticoats. 

Being the social studies teacher I am I immediately Googled what historical books could be found on female WWI spies. The Alice Network was the first to come up so that was not so promising on my options! I found one book on Louise (in French), another more textbook looking book that featured Mata Hari on the cover looking seductive, Women Heroes of WWI which could be promising, and a book on Edith Cavell.  None of them looked particularly engaging and I'm hoping that maybe The Alice Network will encourage some more non-fiction books to be written on the topic! 




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