By Author / Illustrator
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Paperback / softback
Windyedge Airfield, Scotland. World War II. Louisa Adair, newly orphaned and shunned for her mixed-race heritage, has come here to the edge of the world to look after an old lady with a dark past. Jamie Beaufort-Stuart is a flight lieutenant whose squadron is posted to the airfield over winter. Ellen McEwan is a young woman held hostage by the German pilot who lands at Windyedge one wild stormy night carrying a terrible secret.
Three young people desperate to make a difference in a war that has decimated their families, friends and country. When the means to change the course of history falls into their hands, how will they use it? And when the enemy comes looking for them, who will have the courage to strike back?
A thrilling story of wartime secrets, international intrigue and wild courage from the award-winning author of Code Name Verity, with three young heroes you'll never forget.
Set during World War II on the Scottish airfield of Windyedge this is a complex novel which illustrates Elizabeth Wein's attention to detail. It is a natural choice for suggesting to readers looking for a fantastic piece of historical fiction since it not only immerses the reader in the time so completely but it provides a gripping thrill with the plot.
Now, a confession, I have never read an Elizabeth Wein before so cannot comment on whether this is best read in sequence or not. In my defence, however, not only do I want to read the other books in the Code Name Verity world but I can conclusively say that this brilliant book works as a standalone novel too.
Evocative, intriguing and thoroughly engaging, The Enigma Game is written from a multi-person perspective. Louisa is an orphan, having not long lived in Britain she is feisty and courageous from the start having to fight prejudice against her mixed-race heritage, now a companion to Jane an elderly German lady. Ellen keeps a secret for fear that people will not welcome her whilst working for the war effort. Jamie is a flight lieutenant who is posted to a remote Scottish airfield which provides the backdrop to the whole story. Each of them is fighting their own personal battles when they meet and form a close friendship, allied in the cause to prevent German air attacks when a mysterious German airman drops off an Enigma machine in the remote pub where the girls are staying.
It is in the pub that the reader gets a real flavour for life during World War II Scotland. The peat fires, the inclement weather and the rationing all combine to provide a backdrop to this thrilling espionage story, including a tradition of inserting a coin in the main beam of the pub for good luck, luck which Jamie seems to attract with many successful flying ops using information gained from the Enigma machine. The return of the German airman and the arrival of a British Intelligence officer sets off a chain of events which bind the friends closer.
Wein is a master storyteller, she delivers detail and nuance within her writing. Her depth of detail when describing the airborne missions is brilliant. Characters are developed to enable the reader to really feel they know them and understand their experience.
I loved this book and as a consequence, I will be reading the rest of her books and will not hesitate to purchase it for our school library. I thoroughly recommend to any reader from Year 7 and above since it holds pertinence to teens, young adults and adults alike.
432 pages /Ages 12+/ Reviewed by Sharon Bolton, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+
The Enigma Game is meticulously researched and carefully crafted, combining the ingredients of friendship, intrigue and mystery that author Elizabeth Wein favours for her popular YA wartime adventures which began with the award-winning Code Name Verity in 2012. An inhabitant of Perth in Scotland, Wein is passionate about flying and creating believable characters through the power of her writing. Significantly, she revealed in an interview that she decided to be a writer at the age of seven, sold her first book at 27 and started taking flying lessons at 37. A member of the Ninety Nines [the International Organisation of Women Pilots] and a previous resident of New York, England, Jamaica and Pennsylvania, she uses her life experiences and talents to produce engaging historical thrillers.
Wein's love of atmospheric location and character resonates through The Enigma Game, which is chronologically set between The Pearl Thief  and Code Name Verity . It is 1940, and the remote Scottish airfield of Windyedge, situated south of Aberdeen overlooking a small fishing village, is where three courageous young people - Louisa, Ellen and Jamie - stumble upon a secret that could help them fight back against the Nazi invaders.
Action moves between the fraught, coastal dog fights of Blenheim bombers, poorly equipped to battle German Messerschmitts and at risk from U-Boat attacks, to The Limehouse, a local hostelry, where the wood of the bar mantel tells a sad story. It is a place of refuge, bluff banter and camaraderie among crews of motley airmen from different nationalities, run by a crotchety landlady who is protecting her bohemian Aunt Jane's identity. She hopes that Louisa, a young girl she hired without realising her Jamaican heritage, will make her a good companion.
To Wein, her characters are 'living, breathing personalities'. This explains her desire to reconnect with them and build upon their back stories in successive novels as she 'simply can't bear to let them go once the book is complete'. Fans of her work will love greeting old favourites as there are some surprises.
Wein also demonstrates her ability to manipulate an ambitious three-tiered first-person narrative, as each protagonist tells their story in their own words. Jamie is frustrated by his obtuse Wing Commander and frightened for the men under his command; Ellen is proud of her Traveller heritage, but worried about discrimination affecting her ability to do her job; and Louisa is transformed by her relationship with Jane and her meeting with a mysterious German called Felix.
An advocate of experiencing the scenes she will later write, whether it be climbing inside a Blenheim Bomber or going wing-walking, Wein is also an extensive investigator. Her books combine true life events gathered from transcripts, photographs, documentaries, factual books and bibliographies with the universality of relevant themes. Her characters deal with class and racial discrimination, seeking true friendships and a place to call home. They combat prejudice, fight for equality and determine their identity, taking on responsibility for others along the way.
Wein is adept at connecting ideas, garnered from being an avid reader, to character development and plot progress. The writing of Lively and Mahy, about the bond between the young and old, inspired Elizabeth to create the character of Jane whose indefatigable spirit and love of music links her to Louisa. Wein is also an observer of the idiosyncrasies of dialect.
Where some readers may struggle is navigating the fast and furious multitude of characters introduced at the start and the inexplicable actions of Felix at the airfield when he lands. That said, these are minor quibbles among an action-packed plot that delivers emotional blows and clues to follow to the dramatic denouement.
Wein spoke at an FCBG Conference in 2013 about wanting to empower young people by 'bringing history to life'. She believes that 'young people learning history today need to think of themselves as active participants in a continuous story, and we should encourage them to be ambitious about their own goals for the future. The next generation needs to think of itself as today's keepers of the lessons of the past, both good and bad, and as tomorrow's innovators.'
Further reading, useful web links and a detailed and passionate Author's Declaration of Accountability at the back will prove very informative for young readers seeking to know more about that period of history, and for teenagers exploring the vital roles young women played in the war.
432 pages / Ages 12+ / Reviewed by Tanja Jennings, school librarian
Suggested Reading Age 11+