Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black
Much about this novel makes it a prime example of why not to judge a book by its cover. The cover, as you can see, is gorgeous! The book itself, on the other hand… well, it doesn’t quite live up to it.
Dance of Shadows is about Vanessa, a freshman at the prestigious NYBA (New York Ballet Academy). This also happens to be the very same school from which her sister Margaret disappeared a few years prior. She spends the novel (well, she’s supposed to) trying to figure out what really happened to Margaret and in the process uncovers some more sinister, supernatural happenings at the academy.
Let’s begin. It has been a very long time since I read a novel where my biggest issue was with the main character. That being said, the following is written with a heavy heart: Vanessa drove me crazy. First of all, she’s a bit moronic: she does everything she shouldn’t do, trusts everyone she shouldn’t trust, and ignores ignores every warning she should heed. I understand that in pretty much anything the characters have to do some things that seem against the reader’s better judgement in order to further the plot, add suspense, or introduce the climax scene; however, Vanessa’s actions are missing the natural, smooth feeling and instead simply come across as stupid decisions.
Another issue I had is how confusing and contradictory Vanessa’s character is–and I don’t mean in the good, complex, intriguing kind of way. For instance, for the first fifty or so pages Vanessa makes it crystal clear to the reader she is there to learn about her sister’s disappearance, not become a world renowned ballerina. But then she spends the next couple hundred pages nearly completely neglecting her sister and perfecting/complaining about being unable to perfect La Danse du Feu (“The Dance of Fire”). Then there’s the whole thing with Zeppelin: one minute she’s completely in love with him (we got some serious insta-love in this one, folks), the next he’s lying to her and she can’t trust him, and the next she trusts him wholeheartedly no matter how many warnings she gets against it (idiocy exhibit A). It is also very hard to reconcile the person she is when she speaks–quick-witted and clever–with who she is when she’s thinking, who is rather dull.
The biggest issue I had is that I just couldn’t connect with her. In many books, the best books, the writing is done in such a way that you, as the reader, become the character; for as long as you’re reading everything they do, you’re doing, everything they feel is mirrored by your own emotions. Dance of Shadows was written more as though the reader is watching a movie, playing spectator to the novel’s events rather than playing a part. It made it hard to develop an attachment to Vanessa when I didn’t feel I was involved.
There are a number of other players in this novel, my least favourite being the love interest, Zeppelin Gray. HE’S. SO. FREAKING. CREEPY. And not in the I-am-mysterious-yet-irresistible way but in the I-am-a-freaky-stalker way. While I am fairly certain arousing suspicion of him was the author’s intention, as it does connect to the climax in the end but there’s a fine line between sexy suspicion and scary suspicion and Zeppelin crosses it. Because of this, it is very, very difficult to understand Vanessa’s obsession with him. It would have been nice had Zeppelin been written in such a way that the reader falls in love with him as Vanessa does, making the big scene at the end as much of a blow to the reader as to the characters.
Apart from Zeppelin, the supporting characters were interesting and likeable–if I’m being honest, I think I like Vanessa’s friends more than her.
The story itself gets points for concept and creativity. The linking of dance with demons and possession makes for a remarkably unique plot line. It turns the art form into something sinister, taking the elegant beauty of ballet and making deadly, lethal. It did, however, take a good 3/4 of the book before any of this stuff came into play, the rest consisting primarily of Vanessa practicing and complaining which makes it reeeeaaaally hard to get through. This was disappointing as I’d been hoping to read something suspenseful, gripping, exciting but instead got something that kind of bored me. That said, the execution of the story is lacking but the idea behind the story is unlike anything I’ve ever read before–and that part I loved.
In its entirety, Dance of Shadows isn’t anything to write home about–there is a disconnect with the characters, the MC is kind of idiotic, and the plot moves like molasses–but I must give credit is due and so when looked at in sections, this novel (namely the story) deserves some applause.
Click here for the book synopsis on Goodreads!