A teenager’s dreams of dancing with the Bolshoi Ballet become inextricably entwined with the needs of the KGB.
Kiem’s Bolshoi Saga is known for its alluring combination of ballet, political intrigue, and Soviet culture, and this final installment is no different. The historical drama follows Svetlana, a 16-year-old living in Orphanage No. 36 in Moscow in the late 1950s because her parents were labeled Enemies of the People. Just as her dance career starts to take off, the KGB recruits her as a spy due to her semipsychic abilities. Now, she must balance her strange new relationship with her mother, ominous access to other people’s memories, two competing loves, her inconsistent political opinions, and life on the stage as deftly as a triple pirouette, or her entire life—and the Soviet Union—could crumble. While Sveta’s high-stakes lifestyle and relationships with the enigmatic Gosha and jazz-loving Viktor will keep readers flipping pages, those who have yet to study the Cold War might find particular references—and the overall tone—difficult to understand. The novel can also feel a bit disjointed, as the relatively pedestrian scenes of family, ballet, and romance compete with Sveta’s pseudo-supernatural abilities, the KGB’s cagey political schemes, and occasionally out-of-place lyrical language.
A richly imagined novel that offers a unique perspective on the Soviet Union, this is most likely to find a place among ardent ballet and history buffs. (Thriller. 14-adult)