Happy Friday, friends!

Today I’m excited to review The Mozart Code by Rachel McMillan, a spy novel set in early Cold War Europe. I don’t normally read spy novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed this book because the characters were just so good!

Brimming with intrigue, mystery, and romance, The Mozart Code whisks you away on a dangerous game into the underbelly of early Cold War eastern Europe. With striking detail, it paints the desperation of a people who survived one enemy only to be swallowed by the next as they grasp for some kind of identity in the void. As the clues lure Simon and Sophie deeper into the web of secrets and lies, they must decide, is love truly worth the sacrifice?

Rating: 4.5 Stars

Synopsis:

No matter how you might try to hide in a war to escape your past, it is always close at hand.

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 Simon Barre’s 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.

Characters:

The character interactions were absolutely brilliant. I loved watching all the conflicting character motivations at play, even between Sophie and Simon. No one was all they seemed to be, which lent to the air of mystery and intensity.

Sophie was every bit the typical strong female character—tall and brilliant with perfect aim and calculating precision. And yet, despite the fact I think this trope is used far too often in fiction, I still ended up liking her. Her fear of vulnerability and loss of freedom is one I deeply relate to. And the way she eventually softened to Simon made me like her all the more. Her stubbornness was perhaps not quite as deep-seated as she thought.

Simon was . . . perfect in almost every respect. My heart ached for the rejection he’d endured from his family, and yet I admired him for how graciously he handled it and refused to become embittered by it. He was so kind, gentle, and thoughtful. He loved Sophie without reservation, and yet he was patient enough to give her space and allow her to learn to love him on her own. He was the very best kind of gentleman and perfect balance to Sophie’s stubborn independence.

I thoroughly enjoyed this unique twist on the marriage of convenience trope. The romance was slower, perhaps, and less passionate than younger love, but it was more mature, the kind that comes from shared life experience and understanding. Yet, while they’d had time to get to know each other on a deep level, they still had to learn to truly give all of themselves to each other.

Plot:

I was expecting the story to be more plot-driven than it turned out to be, but despite the slower pace, the plot was still well-executed and kept me on my toes all the way through. Each of the plot twists was cleverly developed and fit well with the overall theme and tone.

The author did a brilliant job weaving the web of mystery and intrigue into the story and building it to an intense head at the end. The only aspect that could have been improved was the action scenes. I had a hard time picturing how the events fit together or grasping the urgency of the situation.

The author’s meticulous research seeped through in her vivid descriptions and imagery that made me feel as though I were really there. The ancient, almost relic-like beauty of Prague and Vienna jumped off the page as the author delved into all their nooks and crannies. I found the world of coding particularly fascinating!

The strong music theme and Mozart motifs were a delightfully rich addition to an already beautiful story. I enjoyed exploring the mystery surrounding Mozart’s life and work and his mythical death mask. And Sophie’s love for his music rekindled my own love for it!

The ending was beautifully bittersweet—hopeful yet unresolved in a way as the characters were left with scars and unanswered questions. And yet they also left determined to rebuild their lives and learn to move on.

Themes:

You wouldn’t expect such rich themes in a spy novel, and yet McMillan surprises again! The themes of identity and freedom are artfully explored through evocative flashbacks and imagery that gives the reader insight into Simon and Sophie. Chess piece by chess piece and note by note, the author peels back the layers on these secretive characters and exposes their deepest longings and fears.

I loved watching Simon learn he couldn’t base his worth on other people and Sophie that it’s ok to be vulnerable and allow yourself to love completely. Most importantly, love sacrifices. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It holds fast to the other person no matter what. And how vividly that came out in Sophie and Simon’s relationship!

Content Warnings:

Check out my Goodreads review here for content warnings. I would rate this PG-13 and for ages 16+.


This is a book that will draw you in from page one and captivate you with its rich prose and complex characters. If you love slow-burn romance enmeshed with spies, danger, and intrigue, this is the book for you!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Netgalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Mozart Code

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