The Mozart Code

Several months ago I learned about Rachel McMillan‘s upcoming novel, The Mozart Code. I love music – including classical composers like Mozart – and was intrigued by the dual setting of Vienna and Prague. Fast forward to December, and I was excited to learn I’d been approved for an ARC of The Mozart Code on NetGalley. The book comes out in March and should definitely go on your TBR now!

The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan
Series
AudienceAdult
GenreHistorical Fiction; Historical Romance
SettingAustria; Czech Republic; England
Number of Pages336
Format I ReadeBook (NetGalley)
Original Publication DateMarch 15, 2022

Official Summary

From author Rachel McMillan comes a richly researched historical romance that takes place in post-World War II Europe and features espionage and a strong female lead.

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. Her wartime marriage of convenience to Simon Barre, the eighth earl of Camden, granted her the independence she craved and saved his estate. Now, as part of his covert team in postwar Vienna, she uses her charm to uncover a lethal double agent immersed in the world of relics—including the long lost death mask of Mozart. 

Simon is determined to gather any information he can to end the Cold War before it becomes as devastating as the war Britain has just won. He has been secretly in love with Sophie Villiers for years, and their work together in Vienna leads him to hope for genuine romance in their marriage. Until a mission in Prague drives Sophie to a decision that will brand her not only a traitor to her country but also to her husband.

With Sophie’s allegiance in question, Simon is torn between his duty to the crown and saving the woman who might have betrayed his cause and his heart.

Review

Special thanks to NetGalley and Thomas Nelson for providing me with an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review!

The Mozart Code is a multilayered book that offers several different themes that may appeal to a range of readers. On the one hand, there is espionage in early Cold War Europe, featuring double agents, chess, and lost relics in the worlds of art and music. On the other hand, there’s a slow-build romance and a marriage of convenience, set against the hazy backdrops of Vienna and Prague.

Simon Barrington works to stop the Cold War, while Sophie Huntington-Villiers (secretly his wife) works to uncover artifacts for rich and powerful men. Amidst their respective missions, Simon and Sophie also have a simmering romance, one that started a decade ago in England. Despite their marriage certificate, there has been no real love between them, but the chemistry is there. Simon’s love for Sophie is emerging, but will it scare her off? How will their evolving relationship impact their job in halting the Cold War?

Truth be told, I’m not generally one for war stories, including the Cold War. I also have little familiarity with anything involving espionage and hunting down artifacts or double agents. For the first few chapters of The Mozart Code, I was a bit confused about what precisely Simon and Sophie were each doing, who they were talking to, and why. I supposed there’s a learning curve when it comes to spy novels, and I’m a hopeless beginner. However, if you often read books (or watch movies or shows) with these themes, you may be better equipped to understand and fully enjoy this novel.

In spite of my own confusion, though, I actually quite enjoyed The Mozart Code. For me, it was the other elements that really lifted up the story.

First, I loved the musical aspect of the novel. Sophie is a skilled pianist with a particular affinity for Mozart. She has poured her love into the music she plays, a safer place for her than romantic relationships. It is Sophie’s love of Mozart that pushes her to take on the task of finding the late composer’s death mask, if it even exists. The Mozart theme also plays out in how we view the two cities in which the novel is primarily set: both Prague and Vienna were homes to Mozart during his life, a fact both cities are proud of.

This leads to another aspect that shines in The Mozart Code: the settings. I love Europe, and though I haven’t yet been to Austria or Czech Republic, both are high on my bucket list. With this novel, readers get a glimpse of Vienna and Prague, though not in a touristic sense. Rather, we see both in a hazier, more mysterious light, steeped in darkness and secrets. Rachel McMillan paints a foggy yet intriguing picture of these two backdrops. She also infuses a sense of how musical these two cities are and how they each claim Mozart as their own.

Beyond music, The Mozart Code also plays out like a sort of chess game, bringing to life Simon’s passion and his interactions with a mysterious letter writer. If you’re like me and are no expert in chess, fear not. While there are specifics about chess moves, you can enjoy the novel equally without deep knowledge of the game.

Of course, one of the highlights of The Mozart Code – and, indeed, the second main storyline apart from the espionage – is the relationship between Simon and Sophie. They’ve been married for several years by this point, but it’s a marriage in name only. Eventually the reason behind their decision to wed is revealed, but it was for convenience only. Well, maybe not entirely on Simon’s end. He seems to have loved Sophie forever, but she doesn’t quite reciprocate his feelings or is too afraid to act on them.

Throughout the novel, their relationship slowly deepens, true feelings getting out and passions finally rising. This is clean romance, so no open-door scenes, but their relationship still feels compelling. It doesn’t offer the grand finale I would normally hope for, and there was a certain scene I’d expected that never came to fruition, but even so, I enjoyed their romantic arc. It’s a slow moving love story, and I liked getting to know Simon and Sophie, especially with the looks back on their younger selves in England.

Simon’s personal history – and the secret surrounding his parentage – also gets particular attention here. There are some exciting revelations and action-packed scenes near the end, but there is also some tragedy mixed in. It culminates in a soft close.

One final note I have about The Mozart Code is about its classification as Christian Fiction. As an atheist myself, it’s a genre I normally avoid, so I went into this novel with some caution. However, I was pleased to find that it was not overtly religious in the least. According to the acknowledgements at the end, apparently the story is a loose retelling of, or inspired by, a particular Bible verse. But as I have not read the Bible, any religious overtones went right over my head. If you’re religious, you may find extra meaning in The Mozart Code. But if you’re nonreligious, like me, it’s still an enjoyable read without anything heavy-handed or preachy.

Final Thoughts

The Mozart Code is a shadowy and intriguing novel of love and espionage. Mozart, his death mask, and his Messiah composition are at the epicenter of the story, and the novel is filled out with Cold War politics, a bit of action, a game of chess, and a slowly blooming romance. If you like spy novels, European cities, or a different kind of historical romance, this is a book you’ll want once it’s out on March 15, 2022.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

About the Author

Rachel McMillan - 2019

Rachel McMillan is the author of The Herringford and Watts mysteries, The Van Buren and DeLuca mysteries, The Three Quarter Time series, The London Restoration, and The Mozart Code. Her non-fiction works including Dream Plan Go: A Travel Guide for Independent Adventure and A Very Merry Holiday Movie Guide. Rachel lives in Toronto, Canada and is always reading.

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