Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Book Review)

Red Sparrow (Red Sparrow Trilogy #1)Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

How-dumb-I-was-as-a-kid story: As a kid, I always had the impression that the entire world, or maybe only particular places in it, used to be black and white, before we had color film. Those were the pictures I saw over and over, in biographies and textbooks and my grandmother’s boxes and albums of photos. Nobody had blue eyes or red hair, no matter how they were described in the text. And even after I caught on, that women in the 1930’s really didn’t wear black lipstick, some places remained colorless in my mind’s eye. How could Auschwitz or the Dust Bowl be anything but shades of gray? All the Kodachrome in creation can’t do a thing with a black and white world.

That’s how well and bleakly Moscow was written in this book–despite knowing it has blue skies and green trees and people who are blonde and wear clothing in various colors, I was visualizing nothing but black and white. Once the action shifted to Helsinki or Rome or Athens I easily visualized bright flowers, sparkling blue seas, colorful buildings. Meanwhile, back in Moscow–black and white. Stark.

I was scrolling through my library’s “available now” board and checked this out on a whim, not being a real spy novel aficionado, and was pleasantly surprised. It pulled me right in to a world in which people eat betrayal for breakfast and didn’t let up. Twist and turns and double-crosses and triple-crosses and there might even have been a quadruple-cross in there, and lots of tradecraft and spy acronyms and “wet work” and intrigue and dodging surveillance in doorways and parking garages. I’ll most likely read the sequels.

Fun fact: Two books in a row (this and the very next one I read, World War Z) both had the new-to-me word spetsnaz in it. Coincidence, with Russia so front and center in our news lately? I don’t want to be paranoid.

Now for a small rant. I wonder if anyone feels as I do about this.

The rant isn’t about the book, it’s about the cover of the book, and that’s not even about this specific book. They all do it–if a movie has been made of the book, they start printing covers with a promo from the movie on it, usually a still of two impossibly beautiful and perfectly dressed people kissing in a storybook perfect setting (see: movie cover of The Notebook, which I detested. The cover and the book, I mean; I wouldn’t be caught dead watching the movie).

I can’t stand movie tie-in covers. I won’t buy a book with a movie promo cover on it, and I have the temerity to be annoyed by movie promo covers on the library books I have the good fortune to be able to read for free. When that happens I keep the cover hidden from casual view because heaven forbid anyone think I’m reading the book because of the movie, especially since I deliberately avoid the movie if I really enjoy a book because I don’t want to be pissed off. (And I understand it’s because of differences in storytelling styles from page to screen, and time constraints, yes, I get it. But I steadfastly maintain that 99.99999% of the time, the movie never measures up to the book.) Quite often the original cover art is something envisioned or approved, if not created, by the author and ties in to theme or message of the book, which adds to the overall experience, for me. Some movie star’s face–no.

When I review on Goodreads so I can blog it here, I always select the original cover no matter what edition I actually read. The original cover art for Red Sparrow was pretty meh, so I left my Goodreads selection as the movie one, to illustrate my point. And Jennifer Lawrence is beautiful, no doubt, hell, I could probably be gay for J Law, but that doesn’t mean I want her face on the cover of the book I’m reading that is not about her.

For this one, especially given that Putin features as a baddie in the book, Maria Butina on the cover might have been appropriate. ~wink wink~

Anyway, don’t judge this book by any of its covers. It’s a good read.

Bookshelves: spy-vs-spy, mother-russia, thriller

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Author: Deborah Lee

I like trees, dreaming, magic, books, paper, floating, dreaming, rhinos, rocks, stargazing, wine, dragonflies, trains, and silence to hear the world breathe.

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