Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Palace of Treason - Jason Matthews (Red Sparrow #2)

Palace of Treason (Dominika Egorova & Nathaniel Nash, #2)I read the first book in this trilogy, Red Sparrow, a few years ago while in school.  I was taking a class called "Cold War and the Spy Novel" and RS was a recent spy novel that had come out, and Barack Obama had put it on his to-read list, so it ended up on the syllabus.  I remember liking RS overall, but now reading Palace of Treason (which was, by the way, my pick for an espionage thriller for my reading challenge) I remember some of the issues I had with the first book.

POT takes place about nine months after RS, with Dominika working in counterintelligence in Russia and Nate being positioned in Athens.  There are two main storylines that start to draw closer as the book progresses.  First, Nate gets a new recruit: a Russian who feels he has lost everything and wants to make Russia pay for it.  Meanwhile Dominika recruits an Iranian nuclear scientist, which in a roundabout way brings her back into contact with Nate.  But the main plotline here is that a spurned CIA employee decides he's going to betray the agency by selling secrets to the Russians and making lots of money off them, and reveals that there are not one but two Russians working for the agency, putting both Dominika and the new recruit at risk.

As far as the spy elements go, this was fine.  The plots intertwine in sensible ways and Matthews of course has the US being the "good guys," (ha, Good Guys) who want information but not at any sort of risk to their agents.  Dominika continues to be the stubborn Russian who is willing to do whatever it takes to bring down the corruption she sees as poisoning her mother country, even if means she might be discovered, tortured, and killed.  And really, that's one of my big complaints here.  The characters are all completely one-dimensional.  Nate is sort of a sweeter version of James Bond, who seems to feel the need to sleep with every woman who comes his way (they are all, of course, attractive) and puts them in serious danger in the course of their relationships and keeps fucking up because of it.  Newcomer to the scene Hannah is constantly referred to as a "nature girl," which clearly defines her entire character and being.  Dominika is...well, I've already said, but she's a woman, which means that, when he's not talking about the "colors" she can see around people describing all of their thoughts and motivations (which removes any real sense of mystery here) the main things Matthews is concerned about are her breasts.

Yes, you read that right.  For some reason, Matthews seems absolutely incapable of writing about women without speculating on how their nipples look at any given point in time, even when they're in the process of trying to garrotte each other.  I feel like I couldn't get more than a few paragraphs in this book without reading about some woman's boobs.  Even when a character is in the process of trying to evade capture, and is having a heart attack at the same time, Matthews feels it's necessary to talk about how her dress is wet and is clinging to her "ample bosom."  And of course Dominika, despite being one of the best spies ever, as we are repeatedly told, can't ever actually seem to accomplish anything without using sex to get it.  Hmmm.... The male spies in this book don't ever seem to be sleeping with people to get information.  I had so much side-eying going on here with this.

Another thing here that irked me was Matthews' details.  I live and work in Washington, DC, and so many of the small details he throws in, trying to make everything more "realistic" are just so blatantly wrong.  From the façade of the Good Guys strip club (which is in my neighborhood, right next to a Whole Foods, and which sponsors things like recreational baseball teams--they have a very good neighborhood relations team, evidently) which doesn't have a brick front and neon sign at all but rather a wood façade, to the directions the streets run, to how much rent for a one-bedroom apartment in a certain neighborhood is... All of this is so easily available, and yet Matthews got it wrong again and again, managing to completely yank me out of the story every time.  Sometimes less is more when it comes to details.  If you must include them, get it right.  Otherwise, you risk looking silly.

I don't remember having this with RS.  I remember we talked in class about how it's kind of a ridiculous premise, the whole "sexpionage" thing, but I don't remember it being that bad.  Here, Matthews comes back and hits with a hammer until it's absolutely dead.  I'm interested in seeing how this ends but honestly I don't think I can stand another book of hearing about what color every woman's nipples are.  I'm a woman, and take it from me: boobs are not actually that interesting and bear absolutely zero being on 99% of the things I do in everyday life.

2 stars out of 5.

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