The Enigma Game

Written by Elizabeth Wein
Review by Kristen McDermott

Wein returns to her ever-increasing cadre of young pilots, spies, and support crew in this additional prequel to her award-winning World War II adventure, Code Name Verity. Characters from her earlier novels—intelligence operative Verity from the first volume, along with her pilot brother, Jamie Stuart, and his childhood friend, mechanic Ellen McEwen—are joined by an enthralling new protagonist, Louisa Adair. The tragic wartime losses of her parents bring Louisa, the teenaged daughter of a Jamaican father and an English mother, to the tiny Scottish hamlet of Windyedge in winter 1940-41, where she is installed in an ancient pub as a companion to an elderly woman with a mysterious past. The airmen of the 648 Squadron posted nearby spend their recreational hours in the pub, and Louisa becomes friends with Jamie, Ellen, and especially her charge, Jane Warner, aka Johanna von Arnim, a German refugee and former opera star.

The fascinating characters are enough to make this a wonderful novel, but Wein is in top form with a propulsive plot involving a German defector and his stolen, code-generating Enigma machine. The three separate first-person narrators have distinct voices, but their perspectives create a seamless narrative that is hard to put down. In particular, Wein’s depiction of the prejudice that Louisa and Ellen face in spite of their clear intellectual and practical gifts (Louisa for her skin color and Ellen for her family background in an itinerant Traveller clan) seems especially timely.

Fans of Wein’s intricate network of relationships spreading out from the charismatic Beaufort-Stuart clan will have fun spotting familiar names and faces from the other three novels, but the story can stand alone as an emotionally exhilarating portrait of grace under fire and friendships forged in the shared war effort.