Today we bring you the latest installment in our feature, “What She Said…” in which we both review books that the other has previously read and reviewed. This feature arose because of a very serious dilemma we faced at Casa De Smugglers: what happens when one of us reads and reviews a book that the other desperately wants to read and review? We can’t really post about the same book AGAIN, right? WRONG! Thus, “What She Said…” was born.

For today’s post, we take on Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen (respectively Ana’s and Thea’s favorite books of 2012 thus far).

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Hyperion (US)/Egmont (UK), May 2012 (US)/February 2012 (UK), Hardcover: 343 Pages (US)

Original Review: February 2012

Original Rating: 10 (YOWZA!)

What Ana Said:

Above all though, Code Name Verity is about its two main characters, two incredible women (I LOVE them. I.LOVE.THEM) and the friendship they had – they are indeed sensational and I wish I could tell you how or why but I can’t really tell you more about Verity without stealing her thunder. This too, would be unforgivable. It also features one of the best lines about friendship I have ever read, a line that is so simple and so spot on and so true when it came to these two characters, it made me start crying from that moment on:

“It’s like being in love, discovering your best friend.”

Isn’t it just?

What Thea says:

Contrary to popular belief, I actually love historical fiction. I especially love those historical fiction novels that focus on the turn of the 20th century, on war, or on politics (One of my majors was history, after all, with a focus on the collapse of the Concert of Europe, the world wars, and subsequent effects on global politics and economics). When Code Name Verity first came out, in fact, it was meant to be a joint review – alas, due to time constraints (the damned thesis!) I wasn’t able to read the book in time.

I am now very sorry that I didn’t try harder to read and review this book in February, because it is a phenomenal read – one that I thoroughly and wholeheartedly loved with very few reservations.

Code Name Verity is the story of two girls: of a captured scots Special Operations Executive (SOE) spy, who is narrating the story by writing it down in the form of a Confession, information for her Nazi interrogators before she is inevitably sent to her death in the night and fog. It is also this brilliant girl’s story of her best friend, Maddie, an Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilot, and just how their friendship came to be. As our narrator transcribes her tale, we see two stories. First, of her and Maddy’s blossoming friendship, of radio operators turned pilot and spy, leading up to her imprisonment at the hands of the Gestapo in occupied France. Second, it is the story of our narrator’s ordeal in the Château de Bordeaux – the terror of her torture, of the torture of other captured prisoners around her, the seeping dread that permeates every stolen minute she remains alive, as long as she remains cooperative and collaborative.

Easily, the best, most powerful thing about Code Name Verity is our narrator’s voice. Brilliant, proud, manic and desperate, our narrator spins her tale on scavenged paper – we, readers, want her to survive but at the same time, we don’t want to believe that she is actually collaborating. Under the pain of gruesome torture, we cannot blame her for giving up anything under such extreme duress, but there’s a part of us that wants her to defy the Nazis. There’s a part of us that wants her to be telling lies, to be obscuring the whole truth, to NOT be The Soul of Verity.

I don’t want to say much more, because that would spoil the heartbreaking discoveries along the way that one MUST read for oneself. Suffice it to say, the reveals and truths are muddy things, but so beautifully, painfully executed. Elizabeth Wein holds us readers captive, both our hearts and our souls, and tells this brave, terrible, beautiful story without flinching.

Code Name Verity is brilliant.

There are, however, a few slight, minor reservations. First, is the crushing weight of Expectation (and this, I should say, is NOT the fault of the novel, but rather my own fault): I have read nothing but rave reviews for this book, and while reading this book, I had Ana’s voice in my head telling me that I would NEED THE TISSUES or else I have no soul, and I was steeling myself for That Part of the book that would knock the ever-loving crap out of me. And when I got to That Part That Everyone Talks About, I was of course saddened and devastated…but not to the degree of inconsolability that I was expecting. As I was telling Ana, there is an inevitability to this story – you know that there is no possible way it could have a proper happy ending. Because of my own unfair expectations – again, NOT the fault of the book or author, the blame lies solely with me – I felt like I was bracing for a horrendous eventuality that came, but was less than what I was expecting.1

I don’t know if that makes any sense. I hope it does.

The other things I must mention – Code Name Verity is an epistolary novel. I am not a huge fan of epistolary novels. To me, they are the equivalent of found footage films – inherently they require immense suspension of disbelief (because really, who is going to explain every itty bitty thing in a letter – or hold a camera and film things when facing mortal peril?). This applies to Code Name Verity, because you NEED to suspend disbelief in order to accept the very premise of the novel – that our narrator has been afforded the chance to write out her story (not just a confession or details, but a full bleeding story about her best friend and their history together). It is a rather large pill to swallow, believing that our narrator would not simply have been tortured until she breaks, spitting out whatever information the Gestapo wants, before being executed (or sent to disappear into the night and fog).

These minor criticisms said, I still loved this book so very much. Absolutely recommended, and one of my favorites of 2012 without a doubt.

Rating: 8 – EXCELLENT (and leaning towards a 9)

The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic (US & UK), April 2012 (US)/June 2012 (UK), Hardcover: 342 pages (US)

Original Review: April 2012

Original Rating: 9

What Thea Said:

There are many familiar elements to The False Prince, from the trained puppet pretender to the throne aspect, to a sort of prince and the pauper kind of vibe. Of course, the most direct and immediate comparison is to that of Megan Whalen Turner’s much beloved The Thief (but more on that in a bit). For all the the elements of the novel are familiar and the twists predictable, I absolutely ADORED this book and devoured it in a single sitting.

(…)

The False Prince is the best book I’ve read in 2012 thus far, and I absolutely cannot wait for book 2 in the series. Wholeheartedly recommended.

What Ana says:

I have been DYING to read The False Prince ever since Thea reviewed it for two reasons: her rating of the book (a rare 9!) and the favourable comparison she made to The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner, one of my favourite books of all time. Thea said and I quote:

Sage’s voice and the story of The False Prince at large is incredibly similar to Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief and there are undeniable similarities between her Eugenides and our own Sage. But…truth be told? I like Sage and his story a whole lot more. (…) I truly enjoyed The Thief and The Queen of Attolia but lacked any real emotional connection to either Eugenides or his Queen. In The False Prince, though, that connection I so desperately wanted in the aforementioned novels was finally forged – there’s something about Sage’s cocky attitude, with his big heart and sharp intellect that completely won me over from the very beginning.

How could I not want to check this out and see for myself? The problem arises from the fact that unlike Thea, I did form a huge emotional connection to both Eugenides and the Queen of Attolia. In fact, I would go as far as to say that both characters are amongst my all time favourites. So I approached The False Prince under the weight of HUGE expectations and as unfair as it might sound/look, this is what shaped my reading of this book and ultimately this review.

Were those expectations met? Partially: The False Prince IS a very good book but for me, it never crossed that line that makes a book as awesome as The Thief. Perhaps it is because it is so very similar in many ways but ultimately very different where it matters to me.

The similarities stem from the type of main character (cocky, clever, sympathetic ), the type of narrative (Sage is the narrator, supposedly as unreliable as Eugenides) and the type of story: politics-driven with a Twist. I loved Sage – LOVED him. I loved his voice, his cockiness, his competence and his cunning plans. I loved how obviously he cared about people and about the Kingdom of Carthya and when we learn his full story, my heart broke a little bit. Just like Thea, I thought that the tensions surrounding the Kingdom of Carthya and its many power-hungry regents to be believable and well-drawn.

The differences come from the fact that The False Prince never managed to truly surprise me despite its many “twists” and the unreliability of its narrator. I thought all of the former to be pretty obvious and Sage never really fooled me. Thea mentions in her review how many of the elements in the novel are familiar (prince and the pauper/puppet pretender to the throne) and that those didn’t matter to her in the end, given how much she loved the writing and the main characters. I don’t feel the same way – as much as I too, enjoyed the writing style and loved the characters, I was still disappointed by those very familiar elements.

I also have a nit to pick about the premise itself. The next bit is a bit spoilery so avoid the next paragraph if you don’t want to be spoiled.

*START OF SPOILER*

My suspension of disbelief was super stretched by how so much hinged on these orphans being able to pull off pretending to be a prince. If the future of your Kingdom and your evil master plan really relied on that, why only train these boys for TWO WEEKS? Boys that couldn’t read, that had no training in fighting or Courtly manners were expected to learn it all in 14 days and well enough to fool just about everybody in the Kingdom? This is all the more problematic considering the revelation of how the death of the Royal Family was not a last minute surprise to Conner at all, if you catch my drift. So surely, he had TIME to prepare better?

*END OF SPOILER*

That said, even in spite of those criticisms The False Prince is a very good book and what makes it stand out is its main character Sage whom I absolutely, completely adored. His voice as well as his relationships with all the other characters (Mott, Imogen, Tobias and the princess) were what made the book come alive to me and on its own terms.

But because the story and its main character do remind me A LOT of The Thief and of Eugenides and in my mind the latter is still a much superior book (there is no beating that twist and the way it is presented), I did feel a little bit underwhelmed. I did enjoy reading it, I do highly recommend it. But I would say this: if you don’t go into it expecting it to be the next The Thief, you might actually end up LOVING it.

And I will just finish it with a thought: let this be a lesson to me. This is the second book this year that I approached with such high expectations after being told their main characters were “just like Eugenides” and it is simply NOT FAIR to those books. I can appreciate how both The Sunbird and The False Prince are very good books on their own but because I did expect the world from them, I ended up underwhelmed and disappointed. Here is a vow: I will try not to make that mistake a third time.2

Rating: 7 – Very Good leaning toward 8

  1. SPOILER NOTE (highlight to read): I was expecting that Verity would disappear forever, another victim lost to the Night and Fog, or that she would have died in the bombing of the “Chateau”. The actual ending is still harrowing and painful and powerful, but requires significant disbelief to be suspended. /SPOILER NOTE
  2. THEA’S NOTE: I feel like this is ALL MY FAULT. GAAAAH. Please, please, please let the record show that unlike Ana (and most of the universe), I am not a big fan of The Theif or Gen, or the subsequent The Queen of Attolia. SO when I say in my review that The False Prince is *better than* The Thief, this is my very personal belief. Obviously, if you LOVE Gen and his ilk, then you probably are not going to feel the same way. I feel terrible about creating such crazy expectations. Completely my bad. *hangs head in shame*
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26 Responses to What She Said: Code Name Verity and The False Prince

  1. Iris says:

    Thea, I felt the same way. Like you, I was prepared to be devastated and a wreck, when I came to the part everyone was talking about. And I was, in a way, but not as much as I was expecting. I did not collapse into tears, although I did shed a few. I think it was all the expectations, and everyone talking about that one scene, that left me to feel a little deflated, perhaps? I did love Code Name Verity, and very much so. Just that one scene.. not as much crying as I had anticipated. And I’ve kept that silent (I also haven’t reviewed it yet because it’s hard to find the words and to find a way to say how awesome it is without spoilers) because I almost feel as if people will think me heartless.

    Anyway, very glad it was one of your favourite reads of 2012 too :)

  2. janicu says:

    Charlotte from Charlotte’s Library told us to read THE FALSE PRINCE at BEA, so clearly I need to get on that. I’m glad for the comment at the bottom there so I can adjust my expectations re: Gen & Sage comparisons. :) (Thea doesn’t love Gen? She’s a rare breed!).

    I totally get where expectations about tissues can affect the reading of CODE NAME VERITY. But it’s very tough to review that one without talking about the emotions it evokes!

  3. Thea says:

    Iris – I completely and wholeheartedly agree with you and reacted the exact same way. It was a very sad and powerful scene, but not the level of profound devastation I was expecting. That doesn’t make us heartless!!! I’m so glad you loved the book too.

    Janicu – OH so you’ll listen to Charlotte’s rec but not mine? PFFT ;)

    And seriously, regarding Gen, I just don’t get it. *ducks rotted produce*

    I even tried book 2! Alas. It’s not for me.

    Wait a minute. Maybe I’m *not* the only one that feels this way…I’m sure there are some people out there that are terrified of saying they aren’t over the moon about THE THIEF. Right?! ANYONE?! *babbles incoherently*

  4. Hollie says:

    Thea, When it came to That Scene in Code Name Verity I reacted the same as you. I think I just couldn’t believe it. I kept thinking: it’s a trick, it’s not real, and kept hoping that everything would turn out alright in the end. Then the end came, and it was not all butterflies and rainbows. That’s when I cried. This is one of my favorite books of 2012 too. I’ve recommended over and over (even before I finished reading it)!

  5. Sofie says:

    Sorry, Thea, but I’m with Ana. I liked the book, but I didn’t love it.

    I read the False Prince because of your recommendation, but I wasn’t expecting Gen. I was able to keep the two very separate without compare/contrast.

    Ana’s spoiler was my major problem too. I feel exactly the same. It just didn’t make sense. Also, the lack of anything new/surprising. I saw everything coming. I enjoyed reading about Sage’s past more than his present. At least that part was all new. I also read it in one sitting, but when I finished, that was the end. No lingering desire to reread the story or crazy need for the sequel.

    It’s a good book and worth the read, but I don’t think it’s a great book. I’ll certainly read the trilogy and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, but I really want and hope it gets better.

    Thanks for the reviews!

  6. Thea says:

    Hollie – Oh man, it was a powerful scene. I am so glad you loved the book, too. I will definitely be pushing this title on EVERYONE, too!

    Sofie – Aww, man. I’m really sorry to hear that you didn’t love it. I really loved Sage, enough so that I wasn’t bothered by the familiar tropes, and I didn’t really have a problem with the spoilery bit, either. Sorry for causing disappointment! I feel terrible. :(

  7. I tried to avoid reading anything about CNV except that people really really liked it so I wasn’t even anticipating a scene when I read, lol. Having said that….that scene itself was not what made me cry in the book.

  8. Sofie says:

    Thea – please don’t say that. :( I’m glad I read the book. Just because I didn’t love it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. I really did. It just won’t be going on my all time greatest list. I would still rate it a seven and recommend to others.

    I’m grateful for the recommendations/reviews. I only found your site a few weeks ago and I’ve become addicted. I’m going through the ten and nine rated books and reading the reviews. Lately most of my reading material has come from here. So far I’ve been very happy. No disappointment at all.

    Thank you and please keep up the good work. :D

  9. If you like Historical fiction based around the WWII time, you should check out Erik Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts. I wrote a review no long ago, feel free to check it out: http://www.thehippiebookworm.com/2012/04/17/a-ponderous-story/

  10. Misti says:

    This might be a slightly spoilery comment….

    For me, the tears didn’t really come in CNV until the last 2 pages. The letter from her mom and the absolute love and acceptance just got me.

    LOL – but once the tears started, I had a hard time turning them off. Fantastic book.

  11. Charlotte says:

    Viz The False Prince– I think the author was not as intent on keeping her spoiler a secret as Megan Whalen Turner was…it was easy to guess, and that actually made me like the book more. Suspecting, then being as certain as could be, of what was up added an emotional punch to Sage’s story, and made me love the book. It I hadn’t guessed, I wouldn’t have cared so much!

  12. Navi says:

    Froi of the Exiles by Melina Marchetta is another book, which I personally think has many similar elements to the Queen’s Thief series, especially with two of the characters representing Eugenides and Queen Attolia. Ms.Marchetta gives an interesting (and a more apparent?) look at the love angle in particular…a take that only those who are good at picking up subtlety can see in the Queen’s Thief series.lol its curious seeing so many stories cropping up that are reminiscent to Ms.Turner’s work, but then again, it is an amazing series, one of my all time favourites too.

  13. sarah says:

    Thea, I’ve never read The Thief or anything by Megan Whalen Turner for that matter. I’ve picked them up and read the summaries a few times but it doesn’t sound like something I’ll like. So I suppose I’d be ducking rotten produce with you.

  14. Chachic says:

    Thea, don’t worry, we’re still friends even if you’re not a Megan Whalen Turner fan. :mrgreen: I’m glad you loved Code Name Verity in spite of your reservations! I’ve been an EWein fan for years (found out about her books through Sounis) and Code Name Verity is one of my favorite reads this year.

    Ana, I still feel a bit guilty that I kept comparing Telemakos to Gen and you ended up disappointed when you read The Sunbird. Most of the reviews about The False Prince that I’ve seen mention MWT so I have a feeling I’d enjoy reading it but like you, I probably won’t love it. Hmm maybe I’ll wait for the paperback to come out before I grab a copy.

  15. I loved code name verity.

  16. ewein says:

    Thea & Iris, you have it on authority from the author that it is okay and totally NOT heartless not to cry your eyes out over CNV! My teenage daughter reacted to THAT SCENE with so much triumph (“I TOLD YOU SO! I TOLD YOU SO!”) that even though it might have affected her under normal reading circumstances, she’d heard and guessed too much about the book while I was writing it – which essentially has much the same effect as hype. And a cousin of mine, who also liked it very much, wrote to me to ask “I didn’t cry – where do people cry?” Different people have different reactions to different things, and I am a firm believer in each reader being able to bring his or her own interpretation to the text.

    Misti, you’re not the first person I’ve heard say it was Esme’s letter that got to them, right at the end!

    Thea, regarding Gen, you are not alone; I know of at least two readers left surprisingly indifferent by this series. I dare people to throw tomatoes! It would be a pretty boring world if we all had to read and like all the same books.

  17. [...] link on the round-up post led me to this post at The Book Smugglers, which, in addition to The False Prince, reviewed “Code Name [...]

  18. Heidi says:

    Bwahaha, just finally got to read this today, but so glad I did! Love that the swap went as well as it did, though I’m not surprised in either of the results (namely Thea loving Code Name Verity and Ana liking The False Prince but having the issues she did). I’m one of those people who was kind of burned by The False Prince because of all of the MWT comparisons, which I’ve also just read this year so it was FRESH in my mind. I’ve liked the book more and more as time’s gone on though and I’ve let that bitterness ebb off a bit. :P

    Would love to see you ladies get the chance to do more of these swaps!

  19. Wendy says:

    I so loved Code Name Verity, and luckily I didn’t read any reviews or synopses before, because I got that pure reading that I always want. The book was incredible and only got better as the pages turned.

  20. Termas says:

    I too love The Thief and I really enjoyed The False Prince. A part of me wonders if I would have been more surprised by The False Prince if I hadn’t read The Thief before. The Thief was an absolute surprise, but having read it, I knew what to watch for in The False Prince.

  21. Jessica says:

    I’ve only made it through about 1/4 of CNV, and I just cannot get past the structure. The Gestapo wants her to write a confession and then lets her write page after page about someone else from that person’s point of view? It doesn’t seem like the Gestapo way. But maybe I’ll be able to start suspending belief if I keep going. I like the story and the voice. It’s the confession part that’s killing the book for me so far.

  22. [...] Thea from Book Smugglers noted, epistolary novels often require some serious suspension of disbelief. In this case, I kept [...]

  23. [...] Elizabeth Wein’s masterful Code Name Verity (Ana’s review, my review), which pushes the envelope of disbelief, but is so damn good you’re easily able to forgive [...]

  24. Katie says:

    I just finished Code Name Verity on your recommendation and have to say I loved it! I have loved every book I have read based on your reviews. Thank you.

  25. [...] promise it didn’t evoke quite that much feeling. More details on that can be found over at The Book Smugglers where Thea mentions the same experience. Overall though: Code Name Verity is utterly brilliant. Go read [...]

  26. [...] Recent Work: The amazingly awesome The False Prince, fantasy novel and the first entry in the Ascendance trilogy. Thea absolutely LOVED this book (it’s still on her top 10 list of 2012) – heck, she loved it so much she twisted Ana’s arm and made her read it, too (and yeah, Ana also liked it a bunch). [...]

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