The movie Red Sparrow, starring Jennifer Lawrence as a prima ballerina turned sexy Russian spy, came out earlier this year to lukewarm criticism from the public. I liked it, but of course, I’d already read the book. Therefore, the complex plotline made more sense to me since I could draw from the 500+ pages I’d already digested. Folks: if you want to sink your teeth into a page turner, forget about the movie reviews. Go out and get Jason Matthews’ books. See, Red Sparrow is just the beginning. In fact, this is a trilogy.
When Red Sparrow, the first book in the series came out in 2013, for me Russia occupied a place in America’s past. I missed the book’s debut, which is too bad because it was widely praised, even winning an Edgar Award. Even so, I probably would have considered it anachronistic, which is what I thought of the TV juggernaut, The Americans (also about Russian spies in America). Fast forward and the second book, Palace of Treason, debuted in 2015. Russia had annexed Crimea, but ISIS was the main foreign policy problem then. So…still outlandish fiction, right? By the time the final book, The Kremlin’s Candidate, was published in 2018, even the title defined the word “prescient.”
All of the books in the series are meaty—by that I mean pretty lengthy, but trust me, you’ll turn those pages quickly. This is an intense, intricate, well-researched tale. Jason Matthews is an ex-spy who spent his career working at the CIA. His description of spy craft and the nuance of modern-day Russia ring true, though maybe it’s just because Russian spying is part of our daily news. The story is principally about Dominika, a young, pragmatic Russian woman who is manipulated into working for the SVR—Russia’s foreign spy agency. Despite being presented with few real choices in life, she nonetheless manages to manipulate situations to get what she wants.
The question that pervades the series is how will Dominika manage the increasingly complex task of appearing to be loyal to the new czar, Putin, all the while surreptitiously working for the CIA? A loyal Russian at heart, she believes helping the Americans will ultimately free her countrymen from the grip of the oligarchs. It doesn’t hurt that her secret loyalties also aid the love of her life and CIA handler, Nate. But can an affair as dangerous as this last? Believe me, it’s worth finding out.