Published by William Morrow Paperbacks on June 6th 2017
Genres: Historical Fiction
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I love historical fiction that is set during WWI and WWII, so Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network was the best of both worlds for me as it has a dual time line, one of which takes place during WWI while the second takes place a couple of years after WWII. What an incredible read this was! And the fact that the story is based on an actual real life women’s spy network that was active in France during WWI? Amazing! How did I not even know there was such a thing?
The Alice Network follows the story of two women, Charlie St. Clair and Eve Gardiner, and what happens when their lives unexpectedly cross paths.
Nineteen year old Charlie St. Clair is pregnant and unmarried. The year is 1947, so as you can imagine, Charlie’s parents have deemed her situation a “problem” and so are shipping her off to a clinic in Switzerland so that it can be taken care of low-key so as not to ruin Charlie’s reputation at home. Charlie makes the trip with her mom, and when they have a layover in England, Charlie runs away because she is on a mission of her own: to find out what happened to her cousin Rose who had been living in Nazi-occupied France and disappeared during WWII. Her family has presumed she is dead, but Charlie is convinced that she is still out there somewhere. She only has one lead at this point, an address in London and a name, Evelyn Gardiner. She has no idea who Evelyn Gardiner is or how she can possibly help her find Rose, but she is determined to follow this lead wherever it takes her.
Enter Evelyn, or Eve as she is known, Gardiner. I’m not sure what Charlie expected when she first knocks on Eve’s door, but a snarky, stuttering, gun-toting drunk with horribly disfigured hands was probably not it. At first Eve barely even listens to Charlie’s story about her cousin Rose and has no interest at all in helping her. That is, until Charlie mentions Le Lethe, which was the name of the restaurant where Rose was working at just prior to her disappearance, and Monsieur Rene, the owner of the restaurant. As soon as Eve hears those names, her whole attitude abruptly shifts and she decides to help Charlie.
As Eve sets out to help Charlie, we are also taken on a second journey, this time back to 1915, where we follow Eve and see how she has ended up the way she is when Charlie meets her in 1947. In 1915, Eve is working as an administrative assistant at a law firm in England, but she desperately wants to do something more important. Specifically, she wants to join the action in WWI fighting against the Germans. She unexpectedly gets her chance when a visitor to the law firm, notes that Eve has qualities that would ideally suit her to working as a spy. Namely, she appears to remain calm, cool, and collected no matter what is going on around her, and she is able to lie with a straight face. Those qualities, coupled with a horrible stutter that make others assume she’s a bit dim-witted and therefore underestimate her. Because of these qualities, the visitor recruits her to become a part of The Alice Network, an all-female spy network that was operating in France, right under the German’s noses. Eve is eager to join and so we follow her through her spy training, to her primary assignment in enemy-occupied France during the war and all of the dangers it ensues, all the way through to why the names Le Leche and Monsieur Rene struck such a chord with her so many years later when Charlie St. Clair mentions them. Eve’s journey is equal parts riveting and horrifying, and 100% life-changing.
I love when a dual timeline narrative is handled well and author Kate Quinn does a marvelous job presenting both Charlie and Eve’s stories in The Alice Network. The chapters alternate between the 1915 and the 1947 timelines so Eve’s backstory is presented a little at a time as is Charlie’s mission to find out what happened to her beloved cousin. Both stories are so compelling that I found myself easily pulled along, particularly because I really wanted to know what happened to turn Eve from spy extraordinaire to a bitter, disfigured woman with a major drinking problem. I also wanted to see how exactly Eve was supposed to be the key to helping Charlie find Rose, not to mention I really wanted to know if Rose was still alive, and if so, why has she gone two years without trying to contact her family.
I also think that part of the reason the dual timeline works so well in this story is the active presence of Eve in both timelines. She is such a fascinating and complex character, both in her younger days where she so desperately wanted to fight against the Germans and as we see her in 1947, where she is ready to take her Luger and blow the head off of anyone who so much as looks at her funny. I adored Eve’s bigger-than-life personality and the way it just fills the pages of this story. She made me laugh, she made me cry, and she had me scared to death for her at so many points throughout the story.
Charlie is very likeble as well, but in a different way, since we only see her at age 19. What I liked about Charlie was her spunk and her determination, as well as her absolute devotion to her cousin, who was more like a sister to her. Charlie’s youthful enthusiasm, combined with Eve’s fierce snark, makes them a pretty formidable team as they journey together to find Rose.
Kate Quinn also does a brilliant job of depicting the settings, both in 1915 with enemy-occupied France and then 1947, with both the French countryside and with London. The sights and sounds felt authentic, and Quinn’s attention to detail is spot on. As I read and followed these women, I felt myself transported to each time period and location.
I wouldn’t really call it a dislike, but I do have to admit that I found Eve’s storyline to be a lot more compelling than Charlie’s. I loved both characters and was invested in both storylines, but Eve’s journey and the life-threatening danger she faced every moment while working as a spy was just absolutely riveting. Charlie’s story just fell a bit short in comparison.
If you’re looking for a well written, riveting read, I’d highly recommend checking out The Alice Network. It’s sure to be a favorite for fans of historical fiction, but I think anyone who enjoys reading about strong and complex female characters would love this read as well. Since this was a fictionalized account of the actual Alice Network, I find myself now wanting to go out and learn more about it since I had never heard of it during any of my history courses in school.
In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women—a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947—are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption.
1915. 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.
1948. 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 truth …no matter where it leads.