Review: “Dance of Shadows” by Yelena Black


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Title: “Dance of Shadows”

Author: Yelena Black

Genre: YA, paranormal, contemporary, mystery

Publication Date: February 12, 2013 (Bloomsbury Teens USA/Macmillan – North America)

Source: Traded-for ARC/NetGalley Review Copy

Summary: Dancing with someone is an act of trust. Elegant and intimate; you’re close enough to kiss, close enough to feel your partner’s heartbeat. But for Vanessa, dance is deadly – and she must be very careful who she trusts . . .

Vanessa Adler attends an elite ballet school – the same one her older sister, Margaret, attended before she disappeared. Vanessa feels she can never live up to her sister’s shining reputation. But Vanessa, with her glorious red hair and fair skin, has a kind of power when she dances – she loses herself in the music, breathes different air, and the world around her turns to flames . . .

Soon she attracts the attention of three men: gorgeous Zep, mysterious Justin, and the great, enigmatic choreographer Josef Zhalkovsky. When Josef asks Vanessa to dance the lead in the Firebird, she has little idea of the danger that lies ahead – and the burning forces about to be unleashed…

☆:  4/5 stars – a wonderful debut, definitely for the “Black Swan” fans out there.

Review: Oh, this book. It really sucked me in at first, but the stage I read the writing with the ARC…well, I really hope it got one last edit in before it goes to pub. Regardless, Black’s writing at its best is no less than dazzling, and even when it’s a bit muddled, it still shines rather brightly. I had a lot of fun with this book, and I’m definitely in for book two. If you’re looking for something a little different in your paranormal YA, definitely check out “Dance of Shadows”.

I’m boosting my initial rating from 3.5 to 4 stars just for the sheer fun factor of this book. I really, really enjoyed it, even with some of the lagging and muddled bits (and infodumps) – but more on those later. “Dance of Shadows” is at turns paranormal romance, a murder mystery, a contemporary thriller about life in the ballet, and the story of one girl looking for her sister (and her very self) when literally surrounded by demons. The pitch of “Black Swan” for the YA set is utterly correct – but a lot less sexy, of course. Still, there were some pretty steamy scenes for the YA set in this book (strangely, most of the dance scenes contained them), so those wanting a little heat with their demonic ballet dancers will hopefully be satisfied.

But let’s get down to business.

First, the bad: transitions. This is by far Black’s weakest technical area, and it was pretty hard to get through parts of this book at times because there was editing so badly needed. Again, I read an ARC that I got in November, so this was probably the first pass in the ARC arena. Hopefully, all of the murky areas will be clearer by pub time because there are so many jewels in that murk that just needed a bit of dusting off.

What also could have used more work was tension – at times, it felt like Vanessa wasn’t quite stressed or paranoid enough, regardless who was the source of said stress. Sometimes the world itself can become the antagonist, and while Black has semi-accomplished the insanely difficult task of turning one’s setting into an antagonist (more on that later), she could have used that setting-as-antagonist more to inject more tension into the areas that lapsed and slacked.

There was also the problem of infodumping: I feel like far too late into the book we got infodumps about the very important Lyric Elite – which looks like is going to play a huge role in the next two books of this trilogy. But that’s not just one incidence of infodumping – it does happen pretty frequently, though it happens the most in the first third of the book, drops off during the rest except when the subject of the Lyric Elite comes up (which came up far too late to boot) towards the end.

Now, the good: Black surprised me with her worldbuilding skills. She managed to shrink her world down and make her own worldbuilding job easier by focusing only on the NYBA itself and its surrounding areas. If you’ve been reading the blog, or other reviews, you know that this is one of my favorite schools of worldbuilding, because it’s so delightfully simple yet complex at the same time. There’s so much in this world that Black has created, many layers: paranormal, contemporary, humans, demons, witches (or anti-demons?), the popular crowd, and the newbies. All of this mixes together in a lovely firey froth that becomes this book. This is by far Black’s strongest technical area, and it just really makes me look forward to book two more than ever reflecting upon it. She manages to turn the setting, the world itself into an antagonist (as I mentioned above) against Vanessa, and I feel like that could have been used far more to her advantage, but the fact that Black was able to do this at all impressed me, period.

She’s also great with character building – though that could have worked on more in general. All of the characters are built pretty strongly, but still could have been stronger – especially Zep and Margaret (considering she’s the reason why Vanessa is at NYBA). I definitely wanted more information on these two and I understand holding back on that information for future books, but for a first book, I did find that the antagonists in general needed a bit more work, and Vanessa and her crew were definitely the strongest, clearest, most 3D of all of the characters in general.

And finally, the sensory imagery and language – Black definitely knows how to evoke very strong, visceral imagery when she wants to, but a lot of this is lost in the muddle and murk as mentioned above. This definitely needs to be worked on, but when Black lets loose her sensory imagery arsenal, she really burns (no pun intended) scenes into one’s mind. Seriously. It was wonderful. I just wish it’d been a bit more consistent.

Final verdict? While this book was a great debut, it could have been better. But I still had a ton of fun with it, and because the concept was so original, it has to make my best of 2013 so far list just because of it. “Dance of Shadows” is out from Bloomsbury Kids/Teens USA on February 12, 2013, so be sure to check it out. This is one debut you definitely can’t miss. And be sure to check out my blog tour stop with an author interview is on February 28, 2013!

2 thoughts on “Review: “Dance of Shadows” by Yelena Black

  1. Pingback: Usagi’s challenges for 2013 | birth of a new witch.

  2. Pingback: Stacking the Shelves: Week 32 | birth of a new witch.

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