Thursday, August 8, 2013

[Review: Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy by Elizabeth Kiem]

"Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy"
Author: Elizabeth Kiem
Series: ?
Pages: 288
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Mystery
Date Published: August 13th, 2013
Publisher: Soho Teen
Format Read: eARC provided by publisher (via Edelweiss) for honest review


A new breed of spy novel combines classic thrills (The Americans, John Le Carre, and Alan Furst), Bolshoi intrigue, and elements of the paranormal.
Marina is born of privilege. Her mother, Sveta, is the Soviet Union's prima ballerina: an international star handpicked by the regime. But Sveta is afflicted with a mysterious second sight and becomes obsessed with exposing a horrific state secret. Then she disappears.

Fearing for their lives, Marina and her father defect to Brooklyn. Marina struggles to reestablish herself as a dancer at Juilliard. But her enigmatic partner, Sergei, makes concentration almost impossible, as does the fact that Marina shares her mother's “gift,” and has a vision of her father’s murder at the hands of the Russian crooks and con artists she thought they'd left behind. 

Now Marina must navigate the web of intrigue surrounding her mother's disappearance, her ability, and exactly whom she can—and can't—trust.

My Thoughts:

This book seriously snuck up on me.  To be honest, I picked it up because my dad always told us that our mom had been a Russian ballerina spy (which couldn't be further from the truth) and I thought it was funny that that's was what this book was about.  So, I requested it, and I couldn't be happier that I did.  It wasn't anything like what I thought it was going to be, but it was so much better.  Sure this book wasn't perfect, but I couldn't help but really like it.  Fake Russian ballerina spy mother aside.  (seriously she's not even Russian)

Not only is this a really cool spy novel with a dash of the supernatural, it's also has a ton of Russian history worked into it.  It's not something that I'm very familiar with and setting the book in 1982 was a brilliant play by Kiem.  It gave me a bit of a look behind the Iron Curtain before it fell.  It also gave me a feeling of impending doom.  I didn't realize how intense things were over there, even in the 80s.  I've always been fascinated with history and for someone who didn't know much about Soviet Russian this book has piqued my interest.

Once Marina's mother gets taken away and she and her father make it to New York, the pacing changes a bit, but the voice that Kiem uses pulls you along.  She shows us the grit and ugliness of New York, when most authors give us gleaming buildings and huge dreams, she gives us a gritty and dirty New York.  I have to admit that I loved her view of the streets.  

I really loved Marina's voice.  She was a girl who was used to following the rules provided by her government.  She was comfortable and well off because of her mother's gift of being a world class ballerina and she of course wanted to follow in her mother's footsteps.  The thing that neither of the women in her family counted on was the fact that they would be able to see things that no one else could.  Which is when things get messy and Marina gets pulled out of her element.  She really was a strong girl and your heart went out to her as she dealt with the world rapidly changing around her.  Her animosity towards her father, though odd, felt really authentic.  It was one of the things that reminded you that she wasn't brought up in the US.  

The weak point of the book for me, happened to be the paranormal element.  It was an awesome thing to add into the plot, but I don't feel like it was fully fleshed out, even though I feel like the story wouldn't be as striking without it.  It really makes the story telling unique, but I feel like it could have been used more or better or something.

But back to the good stuff.  I love when an author uses every single character that she introduces to their full potential and I felt like that happened in this book!  From sexy Russian dancers, to rich and sexy Russian immigrants.  The guys are great in this book!  From an extremely American female friend to a sleazy Russian uncle.  The book also includes every form of known spy, which I loved.  A lot of different agencies get mentioned, which was cool!

Okay, and Ben is a total music snob and the conversations that he and Marina had were some of my favorites!  The 80s culture was strong in the music references and I loved every moment of all the wonderful shout outs to a time in music that I personally love!  

So between the awesome characterization, the totally killer music references, the dancing, the historical elements that will possibly shock you and even a bit of Russian mob action this book was a winner for me.  

 4 Unicorns = Close to perfect!


Tammy Sparks said...

I've got this book for review as well, and yours is the first review I've seen. I'm so glad you enjoyed it and now I'm super excited to start reading it! And I love the story about your mother being a Russian spy!! So cute:) Great review, Christianna!

Natalie Natflixandbooks said...

I love books about the ballet and ballerinas. And I love books about spies. So this is a win/win. I'm interested in the history of Russia in the 80s and the Iron Curtain and all that. I'll definitely be on the lookout. Great review!

Shane Morgan said...

Great review. I really want to read this one. It sounds interesting and I like the title :)

Nina said...

The music 80s reference sounds awesome! I love music from the eightees. Best time ever! :) I don't think I heard of this book, but it sounds very interesting. Another one to look out for. :)

Nicole said...

hmm I am intrigued by this one too! I do enjoy a good historical fiction story, and I've always been a bit in awe of ballerinas and I love spies! I don't know if I'll rush to pick this one up but I am def adding this one to my TBR too!

Jessica R said...

I knew I was interested in this one when I saw "spy" and "Soviet Russia" but I'm so glad to hear that it actually delivered on both counts! And with great characters, too? Woohoo! I'm curious to see how the paranormal plays in, even if it didn't really work perfectly. But I'm coming and expecting to be staying for the spies and the history. Great review!