Review: Red Sparrow – Jason Matthews

Red Sparrow Jason MatthewsMy version: Paperback
Genre: Fiction Spies, Russia, United States
Somon & Schuster
First published: 2013

From the cover:
In present-day Russia intelligence officer Dominika Egorova struggles to survive in the post-Soviet intelligence jungle. Ordered against her will to become a ‘Sparrow,’ a trained seductress using the techniques of ‘sexpionage,’ Diminika is assigned to operate against Nathaniel Nash, a young CIA officer who handles the Agency’s most important Russian mole.
As the action careens between Russia, Finland, Greece, Italy and the United States, Dominika and Nate soon collide in a duel of wills, tradecraft, and – inevitably – forbidden passion that threatens not just their lives but those of others as well. As secret allegiances are mad and broken, Dominika and Nate’s game reaches a deadly crossroads.

As ever, there is a Speesh Reads Pinterest Board for Red Sparrow, positively bursting with pictures to increase your Red Sparrow-reading pleasure

First of all; the recipies? What is all that about? There they are between all the chapters. Being mostly Russian, I’m guessing if you tried making them all, following the given list of ingredients, you’d be in the specialist Heart Department of your local hospital having your arteries replaced inside a day. They become so pointlessly irritating, I can hardly concentrate on what’s going on in the in between chapters for hoping they don’t eat anything! I really can not see a point in it all, apart from to irritate me. What is he thinking he’s achieving with it?

Jason Matthews
Jason Matthews, apparently not at all worried that there might be a price on his head…

The colours thing too, I’m not onboard with that at all. Synesthesia, it would seem to be called. It just reminded me of Greg Bear’s Eon, with the avatars on their shoulders. She doesn’t really seem to use any advantage it might give here either. The dust from contact with a foreign agent showing up under ultra violet light seems to work a whole lot better.

Then Finland. Scandinavia? Not in any atlas produced a millimetre east of West Quaddy Head, as someone purportedly stationed in Europe, Eastern-Soviet Europe, East Asia, the Middle East and the Caribbean, would surely have picked up an inkling of. Though, to be fair, he may well be aiming the book more at the US market, than me…

That aside, the book isn’t too bad, though I understand (not having seen it) the film either isn’t very good on its own, or isn’t very good compared to the book. It is pretty neat having the Russian lady come over to the US’ side (clearly this would be a much more difficult task now, than it was then). Unfortunately, the bits where there should be real tension, there isn’t. A tightening, but he doesn’t turn the screws on it anywhere near enough. The US officer, this Nate person, even though he’s trusted to run the US’ top mole in Russia, has no idea that she might be a Russian agent! That didn’t work. Surely he’d been trained in such things. Even straight out of Spy School. Though if he was straight out of spy school, he wouldn’t have been in charge of the US’ top mole in Russia, see? Sure, she’s playing a very subtle game, but she’s still Russian! And, how many Spy books have you and I read where some grizzled old Cold War Warrior opines “In the spy game, there’s no such thing as a coincidence.”? And yet, Nate still needs convincing. He is, and I would imagine the film proves this (hence the casting of a nobody in his role), the weak link in the whole book. He’s way too naive for an agent in this setting.

Palace of Treason Jason MatthewsBut… it rattles along just fine and while the Russian scenes are by the numbers, they’re pretty good. I bought it, because I seem to have bought the second in what turns out to be a Red Sparrow trilogy, Palace of Treason, thinking that – Palace of Treason – was a one-off, only finding out it wasn’t at a later date. Why am I always the last to know? Maybe that one will bring the bacon home.

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