Anne Waverly, a respected University professor who specializes in alternative religious movements, goes undercover again to learn more about a community called Change that has branches in Arizona, England, and Japan. She found it easy to get into the community when a young girl, who looked a lot like her dead daughter and who hadn't been speaking took an interest in her. The young girl spoke to her and even laughed. She learned about her brother Jason and found herself determined to keep these children safe. She was slowly learning the secrets of the Change community in Arizona but not enough to call in her FBI counterpart to take over. Then she, along with the two kids and one other child were sent to the England branch for more advanced training with Jacob. They quickly realized things were not the same at the England branch and she was scared for herself and the kids and decided she needed to contact Glen with the FBI and fast! The problem was, he had no authority in England.
This book was slow moving but held my attention until the end but the ending was very abrupt and left me with a lot of questions.
SOE. The Special Operations Executive. Its remit upon its establishment in Britain during the dark days of the summer of 1940 when the Third Reich bestrode the continent of Western Europe from Norway to the Bay of Biscay: to establish an effective resistance against the Nazis in German-occupied Europe. The author of "UNDERCOVER", Patrick Howarth, was himself a member of this unique organization. With considerable skill, he shares with the reader the stories of many of the courageous men and women of SOE who risked their lives across Europe from Norway to France, the Netherlands, Poland (there the Polish resistance had an autonomy and control over operations against the Germans unlike any resistance network elsewhere), the Balkans, and Italy. Later, SOE would establish itself in the Far East and the Southwest Pacific in the war against Japan.
Anyone who enjoys reading human interest stories and tales of espionage will gain a deep understanding and appreciation for the people who made SOE such a uniquely effective organization, despite the antagonisms it faced from older, more established intelligence agencies in Britain (e.g. the Secret Intelligence Service [SIS] or MI-6), as well as from elements of the British military.
In essence, "[t]he history of SOE's active service in the Second World War may be deemed to have begun when members of a British military mission were retreating hastily from Poland to Romania in September 1939. It may be thought to have ended when the first white man to be parachuted into Sarawak, and future curator of Sarawak's ethnological museum, accepted the surrender of Japanese forces on 31 October 1945."
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]
There were good ideas in there, and I was fairly thrilled at first at the setting and prospects (a boarding school in England, hidden royals that looked like they’d be badass, etc.), but I must say that in the end, even though I read the novel in a rather short time and it didn’t fall from my hands, it was all sort of bland.
The writing itself was clunky, and while it did have good parts (the descriptions of the school, for instance, made the latter easy to picture), it was more telling, not showing most of the time. I’m usually not too regarding on that, I tend to judge first on plot and characters, and then only on style, but here I found it disruptive. For instance, the relationship between Ellie and Lottie has a few moments that border on the ‘what the hell’ quality: I could sense they were supposed to hint at possible romantic involvement (or at an evolution in that direction later), but the way they were described, it felt completely awkward (and not ‘teenage-girls-discovering-love’ cute/awkward).
The characters were mostly, well, bland. I feel it was partly tied to another problem I’ll mention later, namely that things occur too fast, so we had quite a few characters introduced, but not developed. Some of their actions didn’t make sense either, starting with Princess Eleanor Wolfson whose name undercover gets to be... Ellie Wolf? I’m surprised she wasn’t found out from day one, to be honest. Or the head of the house who catches the girls sneaking out at night and punishes them by offering them a cup of tea (there was no particular reason for her to be lenient towards them at the time, and if that was meant to hint at a further plot point, then we never reached that point in the novel).
(On that subject, I did however like the Ellie/Lottie friendship in general. It started in a rocky way, that at first made me wonder how come they went from antipathy to friendship in five minutes; however, considering the first-impression antipathy was mostly based on misunderstanding and a bit of a housework matter, it’s not like it made for great enmity reasons either, so friendship stemming from the misunderstanding didn’t seem so silly in hindsight. For some reason, too, the girls kind of made me think of ‘Utena’—probably because of the setting, and because Ellie is boyish and sometimes described as a prince rather than a princess.)
The story, in my opinion, suffers from both a case of ‘nothing happens’ and ‘too many things happen’. It played with several different plot directions: boarding school life; undercover princess trying to keep her secret while another girl tries to divert all attention on her as the official princess; prince (and potential romantic interest) showing up; mysterious boy (and potential romantic interest in a totally different way) showing up; the girls who may or may not be romantically involved in the future; trying to find out who’s leaving threatening messages; Binah’s little enigma, and the way it ties into the school’s history, and will that ever play a part or not; Anastacia and the others, and who among them leaked the rumour; going to Maradova; the summer ball; the villains and their motivations. *If* more time had been spent on these subplots, with more character development, I believe the whole result would’ve been more exciting. Yet at the same time all this gets crammed into the novel, there’s no real sense of urgency either, except in the last few chapters. That was a weird dichotomy to contend with.
Conclusion: 1.5 stars. I’m honestly not sure if I’ll be interested in reading the second book. I did like the vibes between Lottie and Ellie, though.