The Alice Network by Kate Quinn is historical fiction novel that is full of adventure and intrigue. The book lived up its hype and more. You must read it!
I’ve always loved history and one of my favorite aspects of reading historical fiction is learning something new about a specific time in the past. Before reading this book, I was not familiar with the real-life Alice Network, the WWI secret female spy ring. Even now, with a simple Google search there’s not much information about the Alice Network, other than the book, of course. So, I very much appreciate that Quinn decided to focus her book on real-life heroes who haven’t received the attention they deserve.
Like many historical fiction books, this is a dual narrative in different timelines. But where this read is different is that the narratives aren’t so far apart, one takes place during WWI and the other right after the end of WWII. This allows the two narratives to eventually come together in a really exciting and interesting way.
The story is about two women—Eve Gardiner, a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and the other, Charlie St. Clair, an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947. Charlie seeks out Eve’s help as they both are trying to locate missing people from the past.
I loved Eve and Charlie, they’re such well-written characters with plenty of flaws. Eve suffers from a stutter, which becomes an advantage when she’s undercover as no one suspects a woman with a stutter as a spy. When we meet her at the beginning of the book, she has an urge to do something more with her life and the Alice Network grants her that. But working as a spy takes its toll on her and when a betrayal splits apart the Alice Network, she’s becomes a recluse drunk. Until Charlie comes along.
Charlie is so great. She fully admits her mistakes and why she made them and despite it all, she’s still optimistic. For a serious-tone book, she has plenty of humorous observations. And the dynamic between her and Eve and how their relationship develops is so well-done and also authentic. Both characters experience a well-defined character arc.
The other characters are also full of depth. Finn is the Scotsman who works for Eve and joined the two women on their journey but he’s still recovering from the horrors of WWII. Captain Cameron is the one who recruits Eve to join The Alice Network and he’s also experienced the unimaginable in war. But of course, the best character is the real life Louise de Bettignies, known as Lilli in the book, and head of the Alice Network. Lilli is courageous, brave and full of wit, despite dark times.
Women in the war
While there’s countless books, movies and TV shows dedicated to men at war, it’s not the same for women. But luckily, we do have writers like Kate Quinn who bring these war stories about women to life. A major theme in the novel is gender equality. Especially in WW1, women weren’t seen as equals but working in the Alice Network gave some woman a chance to use their skills to help a greater cause. Gender equality issues are still present after WWII when Charlie seeks to get money from her account but because she doesn’t have a husband or father with her, the bank won’t give her the money.
Still, despite society trying to keep them down, these women in the books are smart, capable and strong.
One thing to keep in mind is that the book is set during two wars and there are tragedies that happen. But I think compared to other books about wars, this one is such a joy to read with plenty of suspense and I loved the ending.