Elizabeth Wein is an author, historian, and a pilot, three things that inspired her to write her successful World War II novel Code Name Verity. Her second World War II story, Rose Under Fire, is a stand-alone novel with ties back to Code Name Verity. Both stories are about female ATA pilots based in England during World War II. Rose Under Fire centers around American pilot Rose Justice, a girl who dreams of serving on the European stage and an amateur poet. As the Allies push the Nazis back from France, Rose gets her chance to serve on the active front, flying planes and passengers around France. After unpredicted circumstances in one of her missions, however, Rose finds herself in Germany where German soldiers force her to land. From there Rose is taken to Ravensbruck, the notorious women’s concentration camp, where she meets a diverse group of women with three things in common—courage, determination, and compassion.
Wein’s first World War II book, Code Name Verity, is a deeply moving story about the power of friendship between two young women during the war. While Rose Under Fire does not center around one friendship, Wein still weaves a tale of loyalty, kindness, and strength between the women at Ravensbruck. At the concentration camp, Rose meets several women who work together to survive the horrors of Nazi philosophy. First she meets, Elodie, a French prisoner whose kindness and small rebellions give Rose the will to survive her first few weeks in the concentration camp. After the guards move Rose to another part of the camp, she meets a group of women who have already banded together. There is Lisette, the mother figure of the cell block who takes care of the younger girls. Roza and Karolina are both “rabbits”, humans that the Nazi doctors experimented on, leaving most of their test subjects permanently damaged and crippled. Also in this cabin is Irina, a Soviet pilot, or “night witch” as the Nazis call her. One of the other interesting characters of the novel is one of the female guards at the camp, a German who has been both a guard and a prisoner at the camp.
The book is not a light read. Basing her fictional account on the stories of real survivors, Wein offers a look into the horrors of the Nazi regime and the tragedies that occurred in the concentration camps. The women are whipped and assigned numbers rather than names. Doctors intentionally give girls gangrene in order to simulate war wounds and develop cures. Many of the girls are gassed. Through ingenuity and bravery, Rose manages to help save some of the girls slated for execution, and she eventually manages to escape with Irina and Roza. Even after she is free, though, Rose suffers physically, mentally, and emotionally from her time at Ravensbruck, as do the other girls.
Rose Under Fire is a grim reminder of the atrocities that occurred during World War II. But it is also a tale of triumph—the triumph of friendship and the human spirit. Though I found Rose Under Fire a less compelling story than Code Name Verity—but honestly, Code Name Verity is as compelling as it gets—it is still a moving book, and definitely one worth reading. Wein’s research is well done, and she weaves the facts into her fictional account in a seamless way. Rose Under Fire is not an easy read, but through the suffering of the characters, Wein offers a story of courage. Not only do Rose and other women from Ravensbruck survive, but they work together to let the world know their stories, and the stories of those who did not survive the cruelty of the concentration camp.
For anyone who enjoyed Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire is a must read. Partly because it is a well written book, and partly because readers can see a little bit of Maddie and Jamie after the end of Code Name Verity. But for all World War II enthusiasts and lovers of historical fiction, this is a novel for you. Rose Under Fire is a tale of tragedy, but more importantly, it is a story of hope.