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The Enigma Game

Growing up can be tough. That’s what makes that period of life such fertile ground for authors. This period of life is the setting of Elizabeth Wein’s book The Enigma Game which depicts the lives of three young people as they try to survive day by day while wanting to make a difference. However unlike contemporary teenage novels filled with the problems regarding social media, controlling parents and tough teachers the three young protagonists are living in Great Britain. Great Britain in 1940.

The first of the characters we meet in Wein’s novel is James G. Beaufort-Stuart. A flight lieutenant with the Royal Air Force (RAF), Stuart has a few problems. First his boss dislikes him, really dislikes him. So much so he accuses Stuart of “lacking moral fibre”, a euphemism for cowardice and no small thing back in those days. Secondly, he is flying antiquated planes and being forced to use unsuitable tactics to sink German shipping. This in turn leads to Stuart’s third problem, that despite his best efforts his squadron is being used as target practice by the Germans.

The second character introduced to the reader is Louisa Adair. She is a young 15 year old trying to live her life the best way she can. Unfortunately for her, mum got blown up from the air by Luftwaffe bombers and her dad got turned into fish food when the German Kriegsmarine sank the boat he was on. All in the course of a month. Adding to this inconvenience is the fact that Adair is half Jamaican and brown skinned. Race relationships in British society were undoubtedly much better than on the Nazi dominated continent but Adair still feels the brunt of being different. Instead of going to school, life finds the young Adair taking care of an elderly woman near a RAF base.

The third character is a young Scot by the name of Ellen McEwen. A driver with the Auxiliary Territorial Services and billeted in a pub next to the same airfield as Stuart; McEwen is introduced to Adair during an errand. McEwen has her own problem, she is a Traveller, or what one would call a nomad. And apparently British society doesn’t like people who take up that life style (I don’t know why but I am starting to notice a pattern here).

Brought together by the war the three protagonists are forced to work together when a German pilot defects and brings a gift in the form of the much vaunted Enigma machine. The three know that the famous coding machine (the same machine that is depicted in the movie The Imitation Game) could change the war. And it soon becomes clear that they aren’t the only one in the know.

The book is written from the point of view of the three protagonists and is told in first person. Unlike the Song of Fire and Ice series which is also written from the perspective of multiple characters the book doesn’t create a separate chapter each time the reader switches character perspectives but can have multiple changes on the same page. This can be a little jarring to begin with (I felt the same experience that I had when I saw the film Dunkirk which also switches rapidly between different perspectives).  However it doesn’t take long to adjust.

The events in the book surrounding the Enigma’s capture obviously are fictionalised (the actual Enigma machine was captured by British sailors off of a sinking German submarine in the middle of the Atlantic). However Wein’s fictional depiction is spun in a way that makes it believable. It is clear that throughout the book the author has taken inspiration from actual history.

In conclusion The Enigma Game is an interesting take on a vital episode in the Second World War. Though not a book for adults the book is great for young teenagers.

Author Elizabeth Wein
Publisher Bloomsbury Publishing
ISBN 9781526601650
Website https://www.bloomsbury.com
Distributor Bloomsbury Children's Books
Released August 2020