book review: the alice network



Write the locations of German gunnery emplacements on your petticoat. Record the transportation details of a high-ranking official and weave the paper in your hairpins. Get a job as a waitress and hide that you understand all three languages so you can listen in on the high-ranking patrons at your restaurant.

The Alice Network is historical fiction based in truth. This fast read with lots of girl power traces the contributions of a mostly female spy network aiding the Allies in WW1, particularly in Lille, France, during the German occupation.

Disclaimer: The women in the story are clearly expected to do the literal “whatever it takes” to get information, so there is a significant amount of trading sex for information. Not a G-rated read, but I don’t think there’s a war story that is?

This book flips chronologically between the early years of WW1 with a young female spy recruit named Eve (just joining the Alice Network) and a young woman named Charlie just AFTER WW2 who is trying to find a lost family member with the help of a much-older Eve. There is a lot of contrast drawn between Britain pre- and post-wars as well as France then vs. now — this just points to how much life has changed for Eve. The older version of this decorated spy has severely deformed hands, while the younger version does not. As the reader, much of the story centers around learning what happened to Eve, particularly why she refuses to accept her many commendations/awards from her home country.

A real historical figure, Louise de Bettignies, known as “the queen of spies” makes several appearances in the book. According to the note at the end of the novel, there’s a story of Louise getting through German checkpoints by sharing the same set of official papers with other women. Children were sent on a game of tag and as the various women (on each side of the border crossing) tried to stop their antics, the children passed the papers from one to the other. History tells us that Louise was finally arrested with another woman at one of these game-of-tag crossing attempts. While Louise died in an enemy prison, the other woman was released, deemed to be just a passer-by. Author Kate Quinn has decided to fictionalize this account by crafting a story where the other woman (Eve) is an active participant who continued the work after Louise was arrested. Honestly, with the shady history of espionage, I kind of like imagining that maybe the Germans only caught one of them!

Highlights: Learning that many of the discoveries made by the women in the book were, in fact, really discovered by female spies. The invasion of Verdun, as an example, was reported months before even though the intelligence higher-ups disregarded the warning. Also, “the queen of spies” is credited with saving the lives of more than 1,000 British soldiers. She was posthumously awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor, the Croix de guerre, the British Military Medal, and made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.