Book Review #23: Rose Under Fire

Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Elizabeth Wein has hit the jackpot writing kickass female characters in terrible wartime circumstances, and after reading “Rose Under Fire,” I’m sure not going to complain. A sort of companion novel to “Code Name Verity,” in that a few of the characters share screen time, “Rose Under Fire” features Rose Justice, an American transfer pilot who ends up interred at Ravensbruck concentration camp.

One of the tactics Wein uses to great effect is the same epistolary format as “Verity,” which allows readers to learn about the events of the story after they’ve already unfolded. That said, the opening and closing sections are told in real time and recounted as they happen, but don’t comprise the meat of the story.

That distinction belongs to the middle section, where we see Rose and her fellow prisoners turned allies struggling to survive in the dangerous, depleted women’s branch of Ravensbruck in the final stages of the war. The character personalities and interactions here were what made the story for me. I loved the variety of women presented on the page here. Old, young, formerly rich, formerly poor, some with families they worried about, some whose only family consisted of fellow prisoners. Stubborn and sacrificial and loyal and endlessly creative.

One of the things I loved about each and every one of the named women was their almost easy bravery in a situation that was the opposite of easy. They never hesitated to step in and help each other, to hide fellow prisoners or move people throughout the camp in order to keep them alive a few more days. They took endless risks for each other and bolstered each other’s spirits in silly, familiar, universal ways.

Even though the body count wasn’t as high as other concentration camp novels I’ve read, the characters are so REAL that every loss tears at you. Close as V-day was then, it wasn’t quite close enough for all of them. The poetry included throughout only hammers the inevitability of mortality home. Some of it written by Rose, some quoted from modern (at the time) poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, all of it a heartbreaking reflection on war and death and the people affected by both.

One of the other unique qualities of ‘Rose’ was its thorough discussion of the medical experimentation that so many prisoners were subjected to. It’s an excellent marker of how well-researched a novel is when some of the details casually included within the context of other scenes turn your stomach.

I even appreciated the leap ahead to the Nuremberg trials and the participation of many characters that made up the final part of the novel. Nuremberg is taught so widely in history classes but so often over-looked, that discussing the impact of the trials felt like a fitting tie-in to a story whose theme was “tell the world.”

I actually liked “Rose Under Fire” more than “Code Name Verity.” Don’t get me wrong, both are fantastic additions to the World War II genre–which hadn’t found much of a purchase within the YA readership until recently. There aren’t any marked differences between them that account for my preference. For me, the line between good historical fiction and great historical fiction lies in where the story resonates and the magnitude to which it does.

And “Rose Under Fire” is great historical fiction. Definitely give this one a look.

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Victory is Mine! (a Belated Celebration)

No, not NaNoWriMo victory. For the first time ever, I won’t be crossing the finish line with thousands of other writers. But that’s a story for my next post because this one is all about the celebration!

I made the announcement on Facebook and, I think, on Twitter, but it occurred to me recently that I hadn’t yet posted about this new development and tonight seemed like as good a time as any.

Have I kept you in suspense long enough? 😉

Okay, then.

I finished my rewrite of Facing the Music!!!!! For the first time in over a year and a half, I’ve completed a manuscript!!!!

For as many months as I’ve been consistently–or not so consistently–plugging away at this story, I’m thrilled to have a new draft I can work with on the table. I say new because, in many ways, this story is. If my first draft of Facing the Music set out to be Leslie’s and Evan’s story, then this version is all Evan’s. It starts in an entirely different place, and while it covers a lot of the same events as the initial draft, it covers them in a different order on a very different timeline. And of course, because the protagonist is one person instead of two, the major plot points are handled in different ways, too.

Rewriting Facing the Music was one of those ideas that kind of appeared from the back end of nowhere. After I’d gotten that zero draft down on paper–a process that took two-and-a-half months instead of over twelve–I toyed with the idea of telling a little more of Evan’s story for my own amusement. I thought it might be a character development exercise, something I could use to deepen the story during revisions.

Uh, nope.

Instead, Evan’s story took on a life of its own. And the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that reincarnation #1 of Facing the Music might become a lot more interesting if Evan was the only character I followed. It was the first time I jumped into something totally headfirst, no figuring out how to connect his beginning with the best parts of the zero draft. Though I did have to stop and outline some about a quarter of the way in, the rewrite was a gamble that totally paid off.

With as much editing as I’ve been doing over the last few years, drafting has become something of a challenge for me. But guys, I LOVED reworking this story. There were so many moments during the process where I could see the character arcs deepening and their separate threads weaving together. Where I sat there cackling to myself like a mad scientist because of how well it was coming together.

Don’t get me wrong; I still have two, maybe three rounds of revisions to do. One of those I’m aiming to start around Christmas, or just after. Those first edits will be my responsibility alone. Then, once I feel like the story is in a good place, I’ll pass it along to my CPs. I have no clue what the timeline is for edit go-round number two. I’m not going to guess. Right now, I’m going to enjoy the mixture of current success and anticipation for the work ahead.

Book Review #22: Asunder

Asunder by Jodi Meadows

My rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“Incarnate” by Jodi Meadows, the first book in the Newsoul trilogy, was one of the biggest surprises in YA fantasy for me last year. I thought the premise was interesting, but the gorgeous writing and the poignancy of Ana’s attempts to validate her existence and her relationship with Sam were what sucked me in.

“Asunder” picks up not long after “Incarnate” left off, with Ana and Sam and their friends struggling to come to terms with the events of Templedark and the permanent disappearances of oldsouls. The stakes are immediately heightened when more newsouls are born–people who haven’t been reincarnated for lifetimes. Some of the city’s population is willing to protect the newsouls, but an even larger number hate and fear them. Most terrifying is that nobody but Ana with her new memories and new knowledge has any idea what sorts of ripple effects reincarnation has in the first place.

One thing I really appreciated about “Asunder” was that none of the answers came easily. Even when Ana was able to figure something out or make an informed guess that supported her evidence, nobody believed her. Since she is the youngest adult in her society and doesn’t have the same collective memories (or lack thereof) as everyone she knows, it makes logical sense that even her friends would find her opinions troubling.

The progression of facts and revelations regarding the temple, reincarnation, and the mysteriously godlike figure behind both felt natural and unhurried. So did the varying opinions of many of the characters–sympathetic or otherwise. Almost everyone recognizes the benefits and drawbacks of their lifestyle, and it was interesting to see how different minor characters approached those issues.

Most importantly for me was how Ana and Sam’s relationship progressed. Even the simplest concerns–from physical intimacy to whatever future they might have–are complicated by the greater problems of their world. I loved the way Meadows balanced the dramas and traumas of their personal lives with the dramas and traumas of their city.

So why three stars? That’s a hard thing for me to put my finger on, and any answer I give is going to be vague. I guess what it comes down to is that “Asunder” didn’t suck me in the same way “Incarnate” did. It didn’t keep me on the seat as effectively. I didn’t have my heart in my throat half as much. That said, I’m eager to see if “Infinite” ups the ante as the final book in the trilogy.

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