Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy by Elizabeth Kiem
Slow. That’s the first word I would use for this book. With only 264 pages, the first 100-150 were purely set-up, which I’m sure you all know quickly becomes obnoxious. This is supposed to be a spy thriller! Where are the spies? The thrill?? The ANYTHING INTERESTING WHATSOEVER????????? Honestly. On average I read 100 pages in roughly an hour and yet Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy took me forever and there were multiple times in which I considered just giving in and not finishing it at all (which I pretty much NEVER do).
I genuinely wanted to enjoy this. I love espionage, Russia is fascinating (I actually took a course last year on intelligence in the Soviet Union so I learned a lot about the KGB, especially their dealings in and with the USA), and the spy war of the Cold War was so ridiculously intense and often cruel that if properly reflected in the book it would have made a pretty kick-ass novel. Further, the book is about a rising star ballerina from Russia’s prestigious and mysterious Bolshoi Ballet so in addition to intrigue I was expecting a lot more dance. And yet… I got none of this. Instead it gave me a man slowly spiraling into insanity, a hesitant teenage girl, a romance that took it’s dear sweet time to even show up, and just fifty pages of what I was looking for.
Anyway, there were a number of redeeming factors of the novel, things that forced me to finish it and give it a proper 3 star rating. First, despite Marina’s often annoying hesitance, she’s a pretty fun character. Quick-witted and sharp-tongued, her interaction with her friends and even outbursts at her family are A+. Only thing is she doesn’t always feel like a teenager–her thought processes and speech are written like the book rather than as a sixteen-year-old girl. I now that probably doesn’t make much sense so, in short, it makes it difficult to see her as a character separate from the author’s voice, She’s fun and strong nonetheless so definitely worthwhile.
Love interest Ben is adorably attractive–caring, protective, humorous. He doesn’t have that same burning sex appeal as some but he has an undeniable charm that makes him swoon-worthy in his own way.
I’m going to say the fact that it’s set in the 80s is an automatic redeeming quality simply because I like the 80s. How can you NOT have fun with the 1980s! So forgive me–I’m biased.
The author also frequently uses Russian words throughout the text which adds a degree of authenticity to the story. Since Kiem rarely offers translations it can at times be confusing to understand exactly what is being said–thus echoing Marina’s struggle to learn English and integrate herself properly into her new home, even to just survive there in New York. Overall, actually, Kiem does a god job of conveying Marina’s loss and her confusion in such a way that you can feel it yourself when you read it, and then portrays her growth in a way that makes you proud of her.
What was most important though is that once the story finally–finally!–kicked in, it was surprisingly good. A suspenseful spy-ridden race against the clock. Everything that seems so pointless and dull in the beginning hits a climax of such intensity it almost makes up for the first half.
I obviously can’t say that I loved Dancer Daughter Traitor Spy but I also can’t say that I hated it. By the end I actually kind of enjoyed it. So all in all I wouldn’t say it’s not worth reading, just that you need to be willing to stick it out–it all gets better in the end.
Click here for the book synopsis on goodreads!