Genre: Historical Fiction/ YA
Plot: Seventeen-year-old Penny is a lead dancer at the Grande Teatro, a finishing school where she and eleven other young women are training to become the finest ballerinas in Italy. Tucked deep into the woods, the school is overseen by a mysterious and handsome young master who keeps the girls ensconced in the estate. But when flashes of memories of a life very different from the one she thinks she’s been leading start to appear, Penny begins to question the world around her. With a kind and attractive kitchen boy, Cricket, at her side, Penny vows to escape the confines of her school and the strict rules she has to follow. But at every turn, the Master finds a way to stop her, and Penny must find a way to escape the school and uncover the secrets of her past before it’s too late.
My verdict: A dark and addictive debut from Nikki Katz who cleverly incorporates STEM with ballet. This book reminded me a lot of The Red Shoes and The 12 Dancing Princesses. In essence there are themes of prostitution and coercive control as well as bullying and hints of sexual abuse. Overall, a stunning gothic debut with the author’s writing style a mix of Jane Austen/ Charlotte Bronte mixed with Virgina Andrews. Overall, I found the subtle foreshadowing and cliff hangers at the end of each chapter very enticing and at times set my pulse racing. Looking back it had influences of novels like Red Sparrow and One Flew over the Cuckoos nest and the cruel and rudimentary medical treatment, the lobotomy used to turn patients with mental Health issues into docile rag dolls. Overall the author does a very clever job by conveying the girls as brain washed marionettes. There is a lot of romantic tension from all the characters mostly towards The Master almost like Stockholm Syndrome making vulnerable girls totally dependent on him. The author weaves two time lines very well giving us hints to the antagonists motives.
I read this book in a day and half and became enchanted by the glittery and lyrical facade that hid The Masters dark intentions. I would love to see this turned into a series with single novellas about each girl and their life before the academy and how they recover from their ordeal. The characters leap from the page and you can’t help but feel sorry for them and praise the protagonists. Her flaw; Stubborness ultimately saved her. I highly reccomend if you like books like the Lux series and The Selection combined with a physiological thrillers.