Book Review: Velvet Undercover

Velvet Undercover
Published By: Balzer & Bray
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Page Count: 336
Source: ARC Kindly Provided by Publisher via Edelweiss
Audience: Young Adult - Historical Fiction

I love sinking my teeth into historical fiction whenever possible. There are a ton of titles hitting the shelves in the next few weeks that had my history nerd all a flutter. I was attracted to this one because WWI is not an area of expertise. I enjoy reading about time periods and events I know a lot about, but it's even more fun to learn something new. I also picked this one up because I have read Teri Brown in the past and enjoyed her work.

Velvet Undercover focuses on spies in WWI - particularly female spies. I know virtually nothing about espionage so I have no idea how much of this novel was based on historical fact and how much was fabrication. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this one. The main character, Samantha, is still reeling from the disappearance of her father, when she is recruited by British intelligence to work with La Dame Blanche, a famous female spy group. Samantha is brilliant and she fights against the traditional gender roles of her time period. She loves math, science, and breaking codes. Samantha wants to do more for her country than smile and knit socks for the soldiers. In addition, Samantha's spy service means that her recruiter will look into her father's disappearance. Samantha has to know what happened to her beloved father and she embarks on a perilous journey.

After some quick training, Samantha is thrown into the lion's den when she is assigned to find an elusive spy, Velvet, in Berlin. Samantha will have to live and work at the Kaiser's palace while masquerading as a distant cousin of the royal family. Samantha's mission is simple on paper - find Velvet and get out; she finds that completing her task will be more difficult than she could have ever imagined. While living in the palace, Samantha begins to find herself attracted to a handsome and caring German soldier, Maxwell. As she navigates the tricky waters of palace intrigue, she must decide who she can trust and who is the enemy. Could a German soldier turn out to be her greatest ally or will he become her ultimate downfall?

I enjoyed learning more about the conflict in WWI and the strain it placed on personal loyalties, but I was slightly disappointed that this one was not more fast paced. There were segments of the novel when Samantha largely did nothing of interest. She taught some lessons and explored the palace, but the true spying comes much later in the novel. I did appreciate the twists and turns towards the end; I never saw many of these coming, but they worked beautifully.

Overall, I enjoyed this one, but I wish the pace had been a bit more balanced in the beginning and middle. I found that Samantha was a worthy heroine who had a strong heart and a brilliant mind, but was still largely naive. I enjoyed watching her friendship with Maxwell develop. The small element of forbidden romance added a level of intrigue to this one. I'd recommend this one to anyone whose interested in women's roles during WWI or those who enjoy a little intrigue with their history.

One Last Gripe: I wanted more tension in the plot.

Favorite Thing About This Book: The little I know about the WWI focuses largely on the US perspective and the trench warfare. It was interesting to get different perspectives.

First Sentence: I stand at the podium, ramrod straight, awaiting the challenge questions.

Favorite Character: Samantha

Least Favorite Character: I can't say without giving away a twist.

Samantha Donaldson’s family has always done its duty for the British Crown. In the midst of World War I, seventeen-year-old Sam follows in their footsteps, serving her country from the homefront as a Girl Guide and messenger for the intelligence organization MI5. After her father disappears on a diplomatic mission, she continues their studies of languages, high-level mathematics, and complex puzzles and codes, hoping to make him proud.

When Sam is asked to join the famed women’s spy group La Dame Blanche she’s torn—this could be the adventure she’s dreamed of, but how can she abandon her mother, who has already lost a husband to the war? But when her handlers reveal shocking news, Sam realizes there’s no way she can refuse the exciting and dangerous opportunity.

Her acceptance leads her straight into the heart of enemy territory on a mission to extract the most valuable British spy embedded in Germany, known to the members of LDB only as Velvet. Deep undercover within the court of Kaiser Wilhelm II, Samantha must navigate the labyrinthine palace and its many glamorous—and secretive—residents to complete her assignment. To make matters worse she finds herself forming a forbidden attraction to the enemy-a dangerously handsome German guard. In a place where personal politics are treacherously entangled in wartime policy, can Samantha discover the truth and find Velvet before it’s too late…for them both?

From author Teri Brown comes the thrilling story of one girl’s journey into a deadly world of spycraft and betrayal—with unforgettable consequences.