Book Review – The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan

About the Book:

Lady Sophia Huntington Villiers is no stranger to intrigue, as her work with Alan Turing’s Bombe Machines at Bletchley Park during the war attests. Now, as part of a covert team in post-war Vienna, she uses her inimitable charm and code name Starling to infiltrate the world of relics: uncovering vital information that could tilt the stakes of the mounting Cold War. When several influential men charge her with finding the death mask of Mozart, Sophie wonders if there is more than the composer’s legacy at stake and finds herself drawn to potential answers in Prague.

Simon Barrington, the illegitimate heir of one of Sussex’s oldest estates, used the previous war to hide his insecurities about his past. Now, he uses his high breeding to gain access to all four allied quarters of the ruined city in an attempt to slow the fall of the Iron Curtain. He has been in love with Sophie Villiers since the moment he met her, and a marriage of convenience to save Simon’s estate has always kept her close. Until now, when Sophie’s mysterious client in Prague forces him to wonder if her allegiance to him—and their cause—is in question. Torn between his loyalty to his cause and his heart, Simon seeks answers about Sophie only to learn that everything he thought he knew about his involvement in both wars is based on a lie.

He sartorially met any challenge and the face Simon Barrington presented to the world was untouchable: his armor Savile Row, his weapon his slickly pomaded ebony hair, his shrewd, ethereal blue eyes flashing confidence he didn’t always feel.

My Thoughts:

I read Rachel McMillan’s The London Restoration earlier this year and have been impatiently waiting for the follow up. It’s rare that I come away from a book speechless, even when I love it. But it’s been two weeks since I finished The Mozart Code and I still don’t have the words to do justice to the experience. What I do know is that as wonderfully written as Rachel McMillan’s other books have been, this is her best yet.

McMillan is a thorough researcher and an expert at weaving all the historical details into her story in a way that allows the reader to live them. As I’ve recently experienced burn-out when it comes to WWII fiction, I am thrilled that she chose to place her story in the early years of the Cold War.  It was fascinating to vicariously experience the aftermath of that war and to see how the destruction and disorder of that time led to the rise of a new more secretive conflict. It also allowed the author to explore the human reactions when people who have lived through and contributed to a war suddenly find their raison d’etre changed.

McMillan made me fall in love with Vienna in her contemporary romance series Three-Quarter Time  and now with The Mozart Code she made me ache for the city.  No author is better than she at turning a city into a character of its’ own. Post-war Vienna is a city divided, haunted by it’s past beauty and glory, now broken and struggling to rise not only from the ravages of war, but the agendas and the dangerous ideals fomented by those who have their own best interests at heart. It’s a city of secrets, shadows and desperation which perfectly personifies the political, economical and governmental upheaval its citizens experience.

Against this backdrop, McMillan places a slow-burn romance between her protagonists, Simon and Sophie, who were first introduced in The London Restoration. As both characters are reticent by nature and nurture, I loved the slow unveiling of their individual personalities and motivations. Once again, the author brings in her beloved theme of music, imbuing Sophie with a love of it. Like Sophie who sees everything through the lens of music, Simon’s actions and decisions are motivated by his love of chess. It made for an intriguing story, as these two find their paths continually crossing, while Sophie hunts for the rumored Mozart death mask and Simon finds himself engaged in a physical and mental chess match with a secret nemesis.

It was only the piano where she found her escape… Her grandmother had told her, “If you must rebel…do it on the piano keys. Fall in love with music…But to fall in love with a person is to set an expectation that may never be fulfilled.”

When I began this book, I was scared I wouldn’t be able to like Sophie. Simon’s love for her is shown in his actions and reactions to her, but Sophie’s fear of love stealing her independence leads her to make some choices that hurt them both. McMillan’s flashback to both of their back stories gave me an understanding and compassion for Sophie that surprised me. It allowed me to see how much she cares for him, before she herself is even aware of it.

I was anticipating awe at how well Simon loves Sophie (and he really does). Simon is a cupcake, too soft and sweet for this world, who longs to belong.  But the depth of Sophie’s love added to his made this an epic love story. If you’ve ever heard a saying equating love to actions, not words, these two are the perfect example of it. The sacrifices they make for each other and the trust between them is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. And honestly, now I want a Simon and Sophie Cold War series, please.

While this is primarily a romance, the mystery and suspense in both Simon and Sophie’s missions in post war Vienna and Prague are just as compelling. Although I did figure out the identity of Simon’s nemesis before he was revealed. I’m not sure if that was the intent of the author, or if I’m just getting better at analyzing clues (pats myself on back). The intrigue and action kept the tension high and me quickly turning pages to find out what would happen next.

Well, I know I said this book left me speechless and then I just went and review gushed all over the place. Sadly, I still I don’t feel I adequately captured the depth, detail and symbolism that make this story so amazing. So, I’ll just sum it all up by saying:

Rachel McMillan proves she is a master storyteller with The Mozart Code. The plot was complex and unpredictable and the relationship between Simon and Sophie is deep, rich and ultimately swoon-worthy!

 

 

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