Sunday, April 9, 2017

Sekret by Lindsay Smith Review


I am a puppet on Rostov's strings, and I will pay for serving god and country, if god is Karl Marx.”- Sekret, Lindsay Smith
An empty mind is a safe mind.

Yulia knows she must hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia. But if she sometimes manipulates the black market traders by reading their thoughts when she touches their skin, so what? Anything to help her survive.

Russia's powerful spy agency, the KGB, is recruiting young people with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. Their mission: protect the Soviet space program from American CIA spies. Why shouldn't the KGB use any means necessary to make the young psychic cooperate? Anything to beat the American capitalist scum to the moon.

Yulia is a survivor. She won't be controlled by the KGB, who want to harness her abilities for the State with no regard for her own hopes and dreams. She won't let handsome Sergei plan her life as a member of elite Soviet society, or allow brooding Valentin to consume her with his dangerous mind and even more dangerous ideas. And she certainly won't become the next victim of the powerful American spy who can scrub a brain raw—and seems to be targeting Yulia.

Sorry about the dearth of reviews this month so far. A combination of minor reading slump and illness, this particular one giving me pounding headaches that make it hard for me to actually concentrate on anything. Happily, with the help of my best friend, ibuprofen, I was able to both start and finish Sekret by Lindsay Smith in one afternoon.

First, I have to laugh at the Elizabeth Wein review on the back of the book calling this a dystopian, though I admit that a popular historical fiction author- and one that I not only like but also recommend to people- calling a book that takes place in the USSR in the 60s a dystopian is a little depressing. This isn't a dystopian. I guess it can be considered a historical fantasy, or maybe historical science fiction, take your pick. It reminded me a bit of The Girl Who Could Fly (one of my favorite books as a child) crossed with a 60s Cold War spy novel. 

I enjoyed the writing, for the most part. Some parts were nicer than others, and it could use some polish, but I can see the writing turning into something really nice with the next book.

But I admit, most of the Cold War spy novel vibes I got came from the plot itself, though I did wish that carried over to the writing, since I probably would have gotten much more atmosphere and would have loved it much more easily. In that respect, this novel suffers from its first person perspective. I personally would have gone with a third person/omniscient perspective. I was hoping for something kind of like the Covert Front flash game series that Mateusz Skutnik makes. 

I mean, Yulia was an all right main character. I was able to get on board with her and Valentin- though he did sound too good to be true-, and wasn't too bothered by the love triangle (by the way, I don't really understand most people's burning hatred for love triangles, since I was never that bothered by them. I suppose it's one of those things that people find trendy to hate, like the word moist). It was too obvious who Yulia would end up with, and most of the drama in that respect was just annoying. I did like how Sergei wasn't made into a villain, though. 

The most developed characters were Yulia, Valentin, the Hound, and Sergei. Masha and Misha were as interchangeable as they come, Larissa had some glimmers of interesting features, and I kept forgetting Ivan existed. Krusenko was interesting, but not fully developed, and Rostov read like a parody of a villain from a anticommunist American cowboy show from the fifties, like something Bill Bryson would have made fun of in The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

So what did I like, besides the writing? Well, the idea is fan-freaking-tastic. You all know I stay away from historical fantasy, but I couldn't resist. I liked the action. And I admit, when you're sick, it's nice to sit back and pick up a fun, action-packed novel where you know that the good guys will win and the bad guys will lose. It was perfect the perfect sit-back-turn-brain-off kind of book. I loved the setting, and I wish there was more of the everyday Soviet life present. 

A few questions/nitpicks I have before I conclude. The Goodreads reviewer Khanh (the Grinch) in particular criticized her timeline when it comes to music. Apparently, Smith was off on the release dates of the Western music mentioned. She seems more knowledgeable than I am when it comes to 60s pop, so I take her word for it. While I do casually enjoy 60s bubblegum, especially on warm summer days, my regular taste in music is far from that kind of stuff (I like old music from the 20s-40s, show tunes- especially cabaret/vaudeville style, punk music, and alternative, if you were wondering) so I can't comment on the accuracy of that. 

No, most of my questions surround her parents. Now, Yulia's parents apparently used to be good, high up Party members. However, Yulia frequently mentions her parents, especially her father, criticizing Stalin and the other leaders of the Party as being cruel tyrants, and Yulia also seems to have very negative views of the Party. This wouldn't be that bad, if she doesn't specifically mention that her father apparently held these views when she was young, back when they were still good Party members. Yulia's parents likely shouldn't have had those beliefs, especially since they were their most successful during Stalin's reign of terror, and they were also Georgian, and Stalin especially favored his fellow Georgians. They couldn't have taught their children about the hardships of communism- that was just asking to be discovered and shot. I thought her actual family life was done in a very confusing manner anyway. It also annoyed me that Yulia seemed to have absolutely no loyalty to the USSR, when it would have been much more realistic if she had at least some sympathy to the country, especially since it would have been ingrained in her through her schooling.

I did really like this book, though. I was what I needed to get me out of a sick slump- some fun, action-packed book. I can see myself really enjoying this duology- I'm already looking forward to Skandal. But what can I say, this book was made for someone like me to love. It's no masterpiece, but it works for me. I do really want to pick up Smith's serial The Witch Who Came in from the Cold with Max Gladstone, or at least whenever the bindup comes out. 

7.5-8 out of 10

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