The Spy with the Red Balloon

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Pub Date 02 Oct 2018 | Archive Date 01 Sep 2018

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Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.

Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to America’s newest weapon, the atom bomb, while Wolf goes behind enemy lines to sabotage Germany’s nuclear program. It’s a dangerous mission, but if Hitler were to create the bomb first, the results would be catastrophic.

When Wolf’s plane is shot down, his entire mission is thrown into jeopardy. Wolf needs Ilse’s help to develop the magic that will keep him alive, but with a spy afoot in Ilse’s laboratory, the letters she sends to Wolf begin to look treasonous. Can Ilse prove her loyalty—and find a way to help her brother—before their time runs out?

Siblings Ilse and Wolf hide a deep secret in their blood: with it, they can work magic. And the government just found out.

Blackmailed into service during World War II, Ilse lends her magic to...

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ISBN 9780807529348
PRICE $17.99 (USD)

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Featured Reviews

So I was actually hoping this was a direct sequel to the first book because of how that one ended. However, the writing in this one was wonderful, and the characters were great. It is a nice to change to be able to delve into the past away from today's social media craziness. I still would like a direct sequel to the first book, though!

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Katherine Locke’s The Spy with the Red Balloon blends magic, history, and romance in a story centered around the nuclear arms race of WW2. Siblings and magic-users Ilse and Wolf Klein are blackmailed into helping the war effort. Ilse is asked to use her knowledge of physics and magic in the development of a weapon for the US, and Wolf is sent to Europe to sabotage the Nazi’s own efforts. Ilse is loud and brash; she is keen to ask all questions, to experiment until all her genius is satisfied. Wolf is more subdued and his actions calculated; he is organized, yet still full of self-doubt. This pair of well-drawn characters who share the narrative responsibilities are physically apart, yet connected by time and a desire to end the awful war.

Locke’s character building is impressive. The reader feels the weight of the world on these characters, the full embodiment of the engagements of science, magic, and subterfuge. The author shows great strength in building relationships, and the crafting of new and rekindled love. Yet, at times the narrative is told with a sweeping broad brush. It may be because it is a YA novel or that I’ve been jaded by the dozens of WW2 spy novels I’ve read over the years, but there were flaws with the lack of details of wartime events. And the beginning of the narrative seemed rushed; there was limited exposition as the characters are quickly thrown into the predicament without much background.

Overall, I recommend The Spy with the Red Balloon, a YA novel with admirable depictions of strong relationships and difficult ethical dilemmas. Locke’s writing is full of memorable lines and some excellent action scenes. Also commendable, I greatly appreciated the author’s note at the end of the book paying homage to the many people who served the cause during the country’s efforts during WW2.

Thank you to NetGalley, Albert Whitman & Company, and Katherine Locke for the advanced copy for review.

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I received a copy of The Spy with the Red Balloon from Netgalley. I had heard a lot of good things about the first book in this companion series The Girl with the Red Balloon, which I have unfortunately not had the time to read yet. They are both historical fiction novels set at the time of World War II, that have magic in it, and Jewish main characters.

This book is #ownvoices for Jewish representation.


While reading this, I kept thinking, why had I not read The Girl with the Red Balloon yet!? The book was so good, and I'm definitely getting the first one. Since, I hadn't read the first one, I can say that The Spy with the Red Balloon works as a companion novel. You understand everything without needing additional knowledge from the first book.

The story shows the brutality of Nazi Germany without describing every evil in detail. It focusses a lot more on what Ilse and Wolf are doing to help and how their life continues during the war.

Katherine Locke closes up the plot-hole of why not all of the victims were saved, if some people had magic, by explaining that the magic was tied to blood, and the magic users would need to have a lot more blood than they could give to save everyone.

The main characters are siblings, and they had such a lovely relationship. They took care of each other, even from afar. It was lovely to find out that both of them were queer, usually books seem to think that there can only be one queer person in a group of siblings, which is just ridiculous. I do head-canon Ilse as aro-spec, and I'd be interested to see if this is the case. They are also quite different from each other, and contrary to popular gender stereotypes, Ilse is a scientist, while Wolf becomes a spy.

One of the major scientist characters is a black female scientist. Through Stella's story, the reader realises that even though Jewish and black people both experienced discrimination, the communities were affected in different ways. Stella also makes the reader aware that just because a place thinks that it is not racist, doesn't mean that that is the reality.

I especially loved how the four scientists (who were all women) became closer to each other, and started to help each other out. It's lovely to read about friendships between women, where the women are accepted for who they are.

The aroantagonistic phrase of "just friends" is used at least twice.


You should definitely get this book. It's soooo good! I will definitely be reading The Girl with the Red Balloon soon. It was beautiful to read a book that focussed on sibling relationships and friendships between women.

Trigger warnings: violence, Nazis, Holocaust, death.

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I really love the sibling aspect that Katherine created. I’m a sucker for siblings. And this is all around an amazing read. I’ve read the first of the series last year and have been anticipating this one since. It’s been well worth the wait in my opinion. I hope others are able to enjoy it as much as I do when it’s out.

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This is a wonderful companion to The Girl with the Red Balloon. I love Ilse and Wolf so much. Ilse is unapologetically smart and resourceful. Wolf is very protective of the people he loves. Their relationship with each other works so well. They recognize each other's strengths and play off of that, even when they are apart.

The Spy with the Red Balloon felt, at times like a prequel. I don't want to say too much so that I don't spoil anything, but it sets up a lot of what we see in The Girl with the Red Balloon. As a companion and a prequel, it complements TGWTRB very well.

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This was terrific! While I bought The Girl with the Red Balloon for my library, I never got around to reading it. I picked this up hoping it would stand on its own, and it most certainly does. The Spy with the Red Balloon is yet another example of why you can't use genre stickers on YA books. It's historical fiction set during World War II, plus magic, plus romance too. Ilse and Wolf are siblings who are just figuring out their magic. Ilse is a gifted scientist, but not so good with people. Wolf is the more measured and thoughtful of the two. They are recruited somewhat unwillingly into America's war effort: Ilse to figure out how to deliver an atomic bomb, and Wolf to go behind enemy lines to destroy Hitler's atomic capabilities. Both are to use their magic, and both are working with others. The point of view switches back and forth between them, and I enjoyed both story lines equally.

There are serious moments, suspense, and sadness - it's war, people! - as well as romance, but what stands out for me is the combination of science and magic. Most fantasy stories have established laws or rules governing the magic of the realm and we step into the story with all the participants pretty much knowing how the magic works - or at least studying with knowledgeable magicians. What was so engaging here was the scientific approach - hypotheses, formulas, testing - as Ilse and her team study the limits and possibilities of their magic. The magic in the story is significant but small-scale, so it feels almost like magic realism.

Tl,dr: Loved it, will recommend all over the place!

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Rating: 4 /5
Loved this addition to The Balloonmakers Series that takes place before GIRL. SPY starts in the United States, in New York, New York with brother and sister Isle and Wolf during WWII. SPY then follows Isle to Tennessee and Wolf to England and then Germany.
Isle and Wolf Klein have magic abilities like those we see from Kai’s sister Sabina in GIRL. They do their best to keep it a secret, only them and their parents; but one day in Central Park they notice someone watching them. That evening they meet a man at their house; Colonel Mann is who he introduces himself as and their parents leave the room. Colonel Mann requires their abilities for help with the war. A war Wolf has tried so hard to avoid unlike his best friend Max. After their meeting with the Colonel, Isle and Wolf prepare to leave their home, as they have no choice. Isle ends up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee with three other girls, Stella, Lola and Polly, and a young man named George Steele. Isle, with the help of her new company, are to use their abilities to secretly transport and drop an atomic bomb once it is built.
Wolf, however is in England, learning how to jump out of a plane flown by none other than his best friend Max. On his first day in England he meets Lily, the leader of their task force, along with Topher MacKenzie who is really good at blowing stuff up. Their first task is to find and locate and bomb German work sites to slow down their progress on the bomb. However that doesn’t go as planned; Max gets hurt when their plane gets shot down and Wolf refuses to leave him behind. After the plane goes down Topher is nowhere to be found. They find a house to use as a safe house temporarily and leave Max there once they find their first location with the help of equations Isle sent to Wolf by balloon. When they return to the safe house they find Nazi’s out front with Max at gunpoint. Wolf rushes in to help Max, while Lily rushes in to help Wolf. The three of them are captured by Nazi’s and put into prison. While in prison Wolf meets a familiar face; who us readers met in GIRL. Ashasher makes an appearance in Wolf’s cell and tries to convince Wolf to come with him and use his magic for different reasons. Wolf refuses to leave Max and Lily.
While Wolf is doing his job overseas, Isle is dealing with missing papers and a spy. Isle and the other girls set a trap for th spy and it works. Their trap leads them to a cabin in the woods full of magic equations, their missing papers and a notebook full of notes regarding it all. The spy however is not there, Isle follows the spy via balloon to Germany, with her brother and a man he calls Topher; whole she knows as George Steele.
After finding out that George was the traitor, he helps Isle write balloons because she refuses to stand idly by as Nazi’s march a group of Jewish prisoners dub the road. From the cover of some bushes, Isle and George write six balloons to send some of the prisoners somewhere safe.
Throughout SPY, Wolf and Isle experience forbidden love, independence, helplessness, loss, and learning what their blood is capable of, and what they themselves are capable of. The brother and sister relationship Isle and Wolf have is truly special and Katherine captures it in words wonderfully. SPY also contains very accurate descriptions of some historical events; just with a touch of magic. I am hopeful that there will be more in the Balloonmakers world soon.
And remember;
Don’t Panic. Focus.

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Reading this book, as a Jewish queer reader, was such an experience. Locke builds a tension and sense of unease that is so incredibly powerful--and the sibling relationship was one of the best I've read in fiction. And MAGIC is SCIENCE? Obviously I'm into that.

This book was everything I ever wanted in a WW2 resistance book. I'm so delighted to read about Jewish queer heroes fighting Nazis. Seriously.

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THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON is the second book, but it occurs earlier than the first, a nice twist. This time we are in the 1940’s fighting World War II

Katherine Locke takes us to World War II with the Klein siblings, Ilse and Wolf. We’re fortunate to be a part of this story from different locations and points of view. These compelling stories are beautifully woven together. Cleverly created concepts of magic and science bring us into Ilse and Wolf’s world and their involuntary recruitment to the war. The details of these concepts flowed so naturally in dialogue and description, I believed they were true.

As the siblings join the war effort, we are introduced to new characters with wonderfully developed personalities. You love them along with Ilse and Wolf, and suffer through their struggles and heartaches as the era, the war, and societal views attempt to stand in their way.

THE SPY WITH THE RED BALLOON is a beautifully written novel about magic, science, World War II, and love. This story tackles many important topics such as morality and ethics, equality, segregation, discovering new love, gay and lesbian relationships, and the sadness and bravery of war.

And through it all is the bond between the siblings that gives you the courage to do anything.

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The Spy with the Red Balloon is the second installment in Katherine Locke’s imaginative series, The Balloonmakers. I fell in love with the first book in the series and so couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy of this one. The Spy with the Red Balloon employs the same magical system that we saw in The Girl with the Red Balloon, a unique combination of blood magic combined with a scientific element that allows the wielder to write equations on balloons which can then be used as a mode of transportation for people, objects, etc. This time, however, we are taken to an earlier period in time, back to World War II, where Allies who are aware of the existence of this magic want to use it as a way to stop Hitler.

This series fascinates me with the unique way it infuses important historical events with magical elements, but what I loved most about this installment were the two main characters, Jewish siblings Ilse and Wolf. Both siblings possess the ability to do blood magic but have been trying to keep it a secret. When the U.S. government finds out, Ilse and Wolf are forced into service. Ilse, a 16 year old with a brilliant scientific mind, was my favorite character. She’s smart, feisty, and has an unbreakable bond with her big brother. I loved their sibling relationship so much – the way they constantly worried about each other and had each other’s backs no matter what, even as they are sent to work in separate countries. Ilse is assigned to a top secret lab in Tennessee. Her job? To come up with a way to use her magic to transport an atom bomb. The challenge? The bomb hasn’t even been developed yet, so she’s working blindly. Wolf is a great character too. While he’s equally as smart as Ilse, his smarts are of a more practical sort. He, therefore, is trained as a spy and sent to Germany to try to sabotage Hitler’s efforts to develop an atom bomb of his own. I thought the author did an incredible job of creating such a tremendous sense of urgency around the building and transporting of the atom bomb. It’s basically a race against the clock, with Ilse and Wolf, each playing key roles.

In addition to the intense situation surrounding the effort to stop Hitler, The Spy with the Red Balloon also tackles other important issues, such as the ethical dilemmas that both Ilse and Wolf face. Neither of them wants to be involved in something that kills people, but at the same time, as Jewish teens, they are torn because they would definitely love to be directly involved in crushing Hitler and his Nazis. Diversity is also well done in this book, with both Ilse and Wolf being queer, and with one of the most brilliant scientists on Ilse’s team, Stella, being African American. The diversity Locke incorporates into her story also allows her to touch on the fact that during the time period she is covering homosexuality was a crime, and racial segregation was still in place.

If you’re looking for a riveting historical read, infused with unique magical elements, and of two Jewish queer teens who are determined to kick Hitler’s butt, I’d highly recommend The Spy with the Red Balloon. 4.5 STARS

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So I’m not sure if you’re aware, but I’m a big Katherine Locke fan. Reading The Girl with the Red Balloon was one of the highlights of my blogging career. It was one of the first books I reviewed and I just fell in love with it. So receiving Spy just felt like this moment of destiny. It was like, “yes your hard work pays off” and it was everything and more

I knew I was going to love Spy with the Red Balloon from the first pages, even before I cracked the cover open. In a nutshell there is gorgeously written passages, thought provoking questions about ethics, and fabulously queer relationships and characters. What more could I actually want?

I mean Katherine Locke is basically an auto-buy author for me at this point. When the pre-order campaign was announced, I stopped where I was walking and ordered it on the spot. That’s the level of my fandom. But I digress.

In Spy I absolutely adored the sibling perspectives. Siblings are a huge weak spot for me. I love every type of them – ones that can’t stand each other, ones that are best friends, and everything in between. What strikes you immediately from the beginning is how unique each of their perspectives are. There’s this refreshing and instinctual gut feeling you have about these characters.

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I loved the historical setting in this book! Most of the historical fiction books I read are set during this time, so I already knew I would love this aspect. The writing was very well-done and the characters were well-developed and really helped bring me into the story. I didn't realize this was book two until I started reading it, but it was pretty easy to get right into this without having read the first book. I can't wait to purchase this title and see how our students enjoy it!

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Wow, this book is good. It's a companion to The Girl with the Red Balloon , and it's absolutely just as strong as its predecessor. Which is a hard feat, because I loved its predecessor, so. The only minor qualm I had was that a few things were a bit predictible- but honestly, it didn't really dampen the impact of the story, so whatever. So let's go ahead and talk about the stuff I loved!

The Things That Made This Book Awesome:

•The time period. Look, a book set (and done right, which this certainly is) in WWII era is probably going to pull at the heartstrings. This certainly did.

•Ilse and Wolf are incredible characters. Not only were they each incredibly sympathetic and well developed, but their sibling bond was incredible. It was also really believable, which is hard to accomplish. These two didn't want to be separated, but in the end, it was really good for each of their personal growth. Of course, their bond never faltered either, so it really was the best of both worlds.

•There was light in the darkest of places. Truly, it gives me hope for our world now. It's lovely to see acts of selflessness and bravery and goodness in such bleak and desperate times.

•It's incredibly emotive. There is so much going on that really made me feel things. Not only is the obvious horror of the war raging on in Europe, but even in Ilse's American small town, the awfulness of racism and homophobia is everywhere. You can't help but feel angry, sad, and scared for these characters.

•The tension and the stakes are, for obvious reasons, incredibly high. This book keeps the action coming, because of course it has to. There is so, so much on the line, and everyone involved knows that it is so much bigger than just themselves. It makes for a very powerful novel, to say the least.

Bottom Line: Honestly, if you are even considering picking up this series (you can read them alone or together!) I implore you to do it. It's fabulously written with characters who you won't be able to forget. The messages it delivers are timeless, and so incredibly important. Do the thing.

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My Review: This was an amazing blend of fantasy and and history. I do think that the cover to this one does not do this story justice. The writing was so well done that I just could not put this one down. This book is set during WWII and omg the again the author did a wonderful job with the entire thing. I did think that it could have been just a little bit longer as the ending felt a little speedy. If you are looking for a new series to die hard to fall for this is one you should totally look into this one.

Do I Recommend this book? OMG YES

Go Into This One Knowing: Fantasy, History

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5/5 Stars

If you haven't read The Ballonmakers novels yet, I recommend diving in as soon as freaking possible! Last year, The Girl with the Red Balloon was utterly brilliant, and now The Spy with the Red Balloon left me enthralled. With history, magic, and science mixed together and characters that are so very real, faults and all, Locke has crafted a suspenseful book full of heart and emotion.

Set during World War II, the race for the atomic bomb is on and the Americans are searching for both scientific and magical answers. Forced into service, siblings Wolf and Ilse Klein must confront the ethical and moral dilemmas of  war both at home and abroad. The attention to detail in regards to the time frame was on point, from institutional prejudices to shortages to the ever present fear; as well as what it would mean for Jewish people in the war effort.

What really made this book stand out though were the characters especially the MCs, Ilse and Wolf. Ilse is an inquisitive girl full of questions and ideas trying to find her way in a world much bigger than her. Wolf is more reserved and protective but faces hard truths that shape his focus. Both of them identify as queer and are dealing with complex romantic feelings; Wolf for his best friend and Ilse for a coworker. Plus the sibling relationship was probably one of the most fascinating I've experienced.

Overall Katherine Locke's The Spy with the Red Balloon was a riveting tale of survival and making difficult choices with magic and war looming in the background. Ilse and Wolf had a wonderful sibling bond and their character journeys were fascinating. Plus the setting added to the emotional and physical stakes. Obviously I think everyone should read Locke's Balloonmaker books! There's definitely something for everyone!

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