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Code Name Helene by Ariel Lawhon centres around the true story of Nancy Grace Augusta Wake, an Australian expatriate who became an crucial member in the French Resistance and later a trained spy for the British during World War Two, earning her the position as one of the Nazis’ most hunted targets.
Nancy Wake starts out as a freelancing journalist who has to fight for her rights as a female voice in a male dominated field. She is a spirited, vivacious character who fights to shout out injustice and who bravely documents the barbarity and Fascism of neighbouring Germany as Hitler rises to power.
She is also a woman who falls in love with a Frenchman, Henri Fiocca, and is swept into a romantic relationship just as Europe erupts into a battleground.
Nancy isn’t one to sit back and allow Germany to dictate her life, and soon after war is declared she dives into a new fight: resistance. She takes on a new name, and various identities to cover her tracks in a dangerous and daring new field.
Told in alternating timelines Code Name Helene chronicles Nancy’s early days leading up to World War Two and her involvement with the British SOE (Special Operations Executive) where she commands and leads a team of military men in Nazi-ridden France.
Overall, I enjoyed this well-researched and detailed book. It is true to the harsh reality of World War Two and there are disturbing scenes of cruelty that could be graphic for more sensitive readers–I being one of them. About half of the book centres around Nancy’s time in a military camp and there is a rough and uncensored feel to the story.
At first I didn’t connect with Nancy’s strong-willed personality and almost harsh bossiness, but her character grew on me. She truly was a remarkable woman, who stood up to evil and wasn’t afraid to stand up for herself and defend her position. Along her the bold red lipstick she wore as her ‘armour’ , and the many code names she accumulated, she makes a strong, determined, and memorable character. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves historical fiction and strong female protagonists and are looking for a new title to read this spring.