1980's, 1980's Soviet Union, book reviews, Daughter Dancer Traitor Spy, Elizabeth Kiem, fantasy, historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, MG, middle grade, middle grade fiction, mystery, Russia, Soviet Union, spy novels, spy thrillers, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, YA, young adult fiction
November dusk slips into Moscow like a spy; you don’t know it’s there until it has stolen the day and vanished into the dark. But on the night that my mother disappears from my life, I could swear that I see it happen. The arrival of twilight, I mean – not my mother’s disappearance. That’s something I don’t see coming. Not until it is too late. Not until she’s already gone.
“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.”
I totally can’t remember where I first heard about this book, but as soon as I read the plot description, I was hooked. As it turned out, Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy isn’t a great book (I didn’t really think it would be), but it is somewhat entertaining and a quick read. It’s a blend of mystery, historical fiction, spy novel, thriller, and fantasy. Plus a Russian setting, which sounded like it had the potential to be intriguing. I was actually a bit disappointed by the level of the book. It’s marketed as young adult, but it’s really short (under 300 pages) and the font is super big. With a plot like this one, the book could have been fleshed out more; however, at least it wasn’t overwritten or long-drawn. It was just kind of an easier read than I was expecting, and it was disappointingly both simplified.
Still, as I mentioned, there are some good elements in this book, which gives a nod in its title to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, the famous John le Carre Cold War spy novel. It’s not nearly as suspenseful though, and it also felt kind of simplistic, as if the author didn’t fully have a grasp of the political situation and didn’t even try to. As I said, this was mainly because of the level of the book, which was not high. Some parts of the narration and the way that Marina talked offhandedly about her family seemed odd too.
I kept hoping that the book would come together more, but it was very discombobulated. For example, there is a fantasy element to the novel, but for a lot of the book it’s not developed or explained much at all, and only really comes in later. This was not a good technique, as thus the different parts of the book didn’t mesh well at all. I’m not quite sure what the author was thinking there. Rather than being a blend of historical fiction, spy novel, and fantasy, the book was more like different sections that were more different genres. And it was never very suspenseful. Still, the story had its points; it just wasn’t nearly as good as I was expecting it to be. I was expecting it to be a 4 star read, but it was more like 3 stars. The characters also weren’t developed enough for my tastes; I didn’t find Marina or any of her relatives all that convincing. The fantasy element could have been taken out and not that much would have been missed.
It often happens that books either get better or worse when the setting changes, and such was the case here. The book definitely picked up at least a little bit once Marina and her father arrive in New York. Although the fantasy element still isn’t incorporated enough, there are some new characters that Marina meets, and her initial plunge into America was the most interesting part of Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy. She wants to keep dancing, but it’s difficult since she’s undercover in terms of her identity and she doesn’t speak much English.
Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy is a really short book, and it’s a pretty fast read. It wasn’t great or anything, but it had an interesting premise, and is worth reading if the plot sounds particularly interesting. I am glad that I checked it out of the library though, as I’m certainly not going to be rereading this one.