Book Review: The Enigma Game

Oh my goodness, gang, you don't even know how excited I was to be sent a copy of the new novel by Elizabeth Wein - even the title, The Enigma Game, made me giddy. There's nothing like the feeling of something new from an author you already know and love; it's the best.

Here's the thing: I read Wein's (probably) most famous / popular work Code Name Verity last year and let me tell you , it was absolutely clear to me why that book gets the hype it does because it is fantastic and so when this landed on my doormat, complete with pretty cover, and yelling at me that it was set in the same world as Verity , well. I kind of wanted to put my whole entire life on pause and devour it instantly.

As it was, I read it on VE Day which was more good luck than good management but it made me happy regardless.

Ah, synchronicity.

I got lost in it, to the point that my boyfriend laughed at me as I swung lazily in the hammock - VE Day was hot, unlike today which is positively wintry - and said 'you've gone to that bookish place' which is what he says when I've lost myself in a book at the expense of actually functioning as a human. I didn't move from that hammock for hours. It happens a lot - often it ends in sunburn but this time he threw suncream at my head. A pretty good shot from a socially distant 2m away. He's a keeper.

Basically, what this means, if I'm not being clear, is that I loved The Enigma Game.

It's different to Verity. Verity got under my skin. It broke me. It took me apart and it put me back together and it made me cry.

The Enigma Game didn't get me in quite the same way, although it's no less thoughtful and hopeful and atmospheric. It's just different. It's more of a thriller, yet a safer kind of adventure if that makes sense, full of cute fighter pilots you want to put in your pocket, and a feisty young girl and a feisty old lady and a German code-breaking machine they shouldn't have but do and it's a hell of a page turner. It's a book about people who don't have a place coming together and about the power of finding a space in the world in which you fit - it's so much more than a war story.

I loved - and I feel that  I can say this given that I read a fair amount of WWII fiction; it's kind of my jam - that it was different. It's set in Scotland which I really liked, a lot of the action centred around a little village pub, and, for the most part it's pretty light-hearted, considering. There's no Gestapo here, no concentration camps, and whilst the Luftwaffe are a very real threat, it all feels somehow....safer?

It's not pull on every single one of your heartstrings kind of tragic, it's kind I mean sure it's heavy, it's still set in the war after all and those cute fighter pilots I mentioned are still risking their lives every time they get in their planes and Louisa still lost both her parents to the war and she's only 15 and there's still a really interesting and very relevant even 80 years later look at things like racism (Louisa is mixed race, Jane is German, Ellen is a traveller) and casual misogyny and the tragedy of war but overall this story is nice, and it's exciting and kind of joyful. It's a story about people with no place finding a place together - did I say that already - and it made me feel warm inside on lots of occasions. The whole storyline with Louisa and Jane, the old lady she's paid to look after, is just gorgeous. It's not a harrowing WWII story this one, which is why that bit at the end kind of blindsides you; I was too busy really having a good time to remember that this is Elizabeth Wein and so when she did the thing it made my heart stutter and I just sort of muttered 'oh dear' and had to sit quietly and have a moment and a biscuit. I was not really prepared for the sad.

It's beautifully written - so many lines I could pull out and quote and the level of detail and the amount of research that has obviously gone into it is mind-blowing - and the book is so much the richer for it. The narrative is solid and the characterisation is stand-out, every single person you meet on these pages feels fully formed and real and you root for them all, even the ones you don't like, because they're fighting a war, dammit and even as they're laughing and joking and teasing in the bar, that fact is always there, like you imagine it would always have been there for them. It's very cleverly done. Oh God, as well, the dead men's money, the tradition the boys have of putting a coin in the wood above the bar before they go on a flight and using that coin to buy a pint when they get back, if they get back. I am not fine.

It's set in the same world as Verity, I said that already I know, so even though there are characters you'll know if you've read that (Jamie! Queenie!) and knowing them adds a certain depth and a certain emotion to the story (I'm not crying, you're crying) this book is actually set before the events of that one and works perfectly as a standalone. Don't let not having read Code Name Verity put you off picking up this. In fact, it might even be a good place to start, a softer book in many ways than its older book sibling (there's another two in the same 'series' too so plenty to go at).

Wein has nailed it again, frankly, and proven that - for me at least - she's up there with the best in her genre. The Enigma Game proves her versatility; all of the stuff with the code breaker was so interesting, and I am always here for a good spy story; that coupled with the fighter squadron was so exciting; I love that she had a diverse female character in her book set in 1940 and she managed to weave that so beautifully into the story; I love that she had an old lady who was an old lady but who still had so much to offer; I loved how she built to a climax that perhaps wasn't the climax you expected but that you still felt you felt deep in your chest; I loved the way all the women in this book pulled together, worked together, wanted to make their mark. I just really really loved it.

And it's out this week - on Thursday in fact - so you can love it too!

Thank you so much to Faye Rogers and Bloomsbury for setting me up with a copy. I am so very obviously delighted.