Dance of Shadows by Yelena Black

Dance of Shadows (Dance of Shadows – Trilogy)

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

“Vanessa Adler isn’t so sure she really belongs at the School of American Ballet. But dance runs in her family. It’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Her grandmother and mother were prima ballerinas, and her older sister Margaret was, too. That is, until Margaret mysteriously disappeared from school three years ago. Vanessa is heir to the family’s gift and the only person who can fulfill her sister’s destiny. She has no choice.

But she never could have guessed how dangerous the school is. The infamous choreographer, Josef, isn’t just ruthless with his pupils, he guards a sinister secret, one in which the school’s dancers-prized for their beauty, grace, and discipline-become pawns in a world of dark, deadly demons.”

I picked up the advance copy of this book on a whim.  It was sitting on the giveaway shelf in the bookstore where I work, and I was drawn to the cover.  Interestingly, the original on-sale date of this novel was December 24, 2012, and according to online retailers, the date is now February 12, 2013.  I have to wonder (and hope) that maybe the book was held back to do some more editing on it.  As it stands in the copy that I have, this novel has some significant flaws.

One complaint that I have is that there are many elements that pulled me out of the narrative.  As an example, some of the names that the author uses are… unusual, to say the least.  The lead male dancer of the Firebird ballet is named Zeppelin, which I find rather absurd, even if he’s usually called Zep.  As a reader who was a teenager in the 1980s, I was also put off by two characters known as the Fratelli twins.  Every time I read that, I had Goonies flashbacks.  I doubt the Fratellis would be an issue to today’s teens, but many teen novels are read by older readers these days, so it might be a problem for others as well.

Another thing that I didn’t like was how slowly the narrative progresses.  The story is an endless round of the main character going to rehearsals and obsessing over Zep.  The problem with making a polished dance routine the climax of the story is that the tale has to spend a significant amount of time showing the dancers getting to that point.  And that’s just not interesting.  Drama outside of the rehearsals might be, but there’s not even a lot of that.

My biggest complaint about the novel, though, is that the prologue completely spoils the story’s tension.  Vanessa’s main reason for being at school is to find out what happened to her sister Margaret, who vanished from the school a few years before the novel begins.  The prologue clearly shows another dancer bursting into flames during a rehearsal and being completely consumed.  There’s no reason for this to be shown if it isn’t crucial to the plot, and since we find out that Margaret was a lead dancer as well, there’s really no question that she suffered the same fate.  As a result, readers are subjected to a book in which they know more than the main character and have to spend the entire book hoping she’ll figure it out.  The only question left to readers is what caused this spontaneous combustion, but the tension of finding out Margaret’s fate is diffused in the first few pages.

I don’t like writing a review that is completely negative, but thinking back on this novel, I’m finding it difficult to think of something I liked.  My feelings about the story ranged from negative to “meh”, at best.  I think this novel had potential, but there’s a lot of clumsy execution and lack of plot momentum.  As teen novels go, I think there are better choices overall, but I am sad that a novel revolving around dance isn’t one that I can recommend.  Dance of Shadows had potential but didn’t live up to it.

This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on January 3, 2013.

Series: Dance of Shadows
ISBN: 9781599909400
Publisher: Bloomsbury Children’s
Page Count: 384
Publication Date: February 12, 2013
Acquired: Provided by the publisher