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The Bolshoi Saga #3

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn

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The year is 1958, and sixteen-year-old Svetlana is stuck in a Moscow orphanage designated for the unwanted children of Stalin’s enemies. Ballet is her obsession and salvation, her only hope at shedding a tainted family past. Sveta’s dream is to make a new life as a dancer.

Her dream comes true: she’s invited to join The Bolshoi Ballet, whose power as a symbol of Soviet prowess is unmatched—except perhaps by the dreaded KGB secret police. Sveta is stunned when officers show up at her door. Inexplicably, they know about a fainting spell she once had: a trance she slipped into. Something like a vision.

Some very powerful people believe Sveta is capable of serving the regime as much more than a dancer. They want to enlist her against the West as a psychic spy. She must explore this other talent if she is to erase the sins of her family, if she is to dance on the world stage for the Motherland—if she is to survive.

320 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 22, 2017

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About the author

Elizabeth Kiem

7 books52 followers
Elizabeth Kiem is the author of The Bolshoi Saga published by Soho Teen.

She has loved Moscow, New York and Alaska, and she currently lives in London, where she pursues projects that nurture passionate reading and brave writing.

Twenty-five years after leaving the barre, she still has dreams on pointe. In waking hours, she sticks to salsa.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews
July 11, 2019

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Psychic ballerina spies? I mean, with a premise like that, there was no way I couldn't read this book, even though an outlandish concept like that could really go either way. Luckily for me, this ended up being the perfect light read-- a lot like what RED SPARROW wanted to be, I think, had it not sucked. Plus, it's about ballerinas and I'm pretty sure I've said multiple times before that if the book is about ballerinas or ballet, I'm so reading it.

Svetlana is in a Moscow orphanage for children whose parents are traitors to Russia. Her mother is a stranger, imprisoned somewhere, and Svetlana anticipates her return as much as she dreads it. Ballet is her means to climb out of poverty and disapproval, and she pursues it relentlessly, rising up the ranks at a rapid pace that's aided, in part, by her assisting the KGB.

For some reason, Svetlana has psychic powers-- she can see things that she was never witness to, and one of those first things she "sees" is the assassination of her father by firing squad. It's quid pro quo-- she'll get to be a ballerina and protect those she loves as long as she provides her government with the assistance and experimentation they require.

ORPHAN, AGENT, PRIMA, PAWN follows Svetlana from childhood to adulthood, from her pursuit of ballet as a poor a struggling girl, to her first love, to her reunion with her mother, and finally to adulthood and motherhood. It can be a little dry at times, and the interludes with Svetlana's grand-daughter were weird, but I found Svetlana to be a sympathetic character, and even though there's a love triangle, I liked both Victor and Georgi equally. And that ending! That ending was great. It might be a weird and inconsistent book at times but, again-- psychic ballerina spies! I rest my case.

Apparently this is book three in a series, but it can be read as a standalone.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!    

3 stars
Profile Image for JoLee.
1,568 reviews59 followers
September 14, 2017

Featured in "Reading on a Theme: Young Ballet Dancers" on Intellectual Recreation.

In 1958 Russia, Svetlana is a resident of an orphanage for children of Enemies of the People. Sveta is also an incredibly passionate and talented ballet dancer, and she's determined to be a star of the Bolshoi Ballet. Her road to stardom is hindered thanks to the black mark on her family's record. But Svetlana has other talents that the government finds useful; talents which a certain KGB agent promises will help erase that scar.

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is part of Elizabeth Kiem's series that follows three generations of dancers in the Dukovskaya family. I haven't read the second book in the series, but I did read the first, Dancer, Daughter, Traitor, Spy several years ago. I don't think that you need to read the other books in the series first. I haven't read the middle book, and, although I admit I may have missed a few things, it didn't feel like missing that book hindered by enjoyment or understanding of the story.When I saw that Kiem had a book coming out that was from Sveta's perspective, I was very interested. I've been reading a lot of books about Communism recently, and I always love books about dancers, so this book definitely checked off a couple of my current interests.

I really enjoyed this addition to the series. Svetlana's story is really where it all begins in the heart of Cold War Russia. I thought all the historical elements were really well done. The general atmosphere of the Cold War was conveyed very well. I liked the side characters a lot, and it just felt good to have Sveta's decisions explained. In the first book, I was a little iffy about the whole psychic aspect of the tale, but I thought that it worked so well in this addition.

Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn is out August 22, 2017.

Review copy from NetGalley.
Profile Image for Amy Layton.
1,641 reviews52 followers
September 2, 2018
I so rarely read historical fiction, and when I do, it's usually French or Victorian lit.  So something based in Russia about a time period which I barely know anything about was welcomed.  I learned a lot, both in words, history, and culture.  Not to mention, of course, that this book falls into the spy genre, which is something that I also rarely read and was once again welcomed.  Together, this made for an interesting romp filled with high stakes, human desires, love, and trying to prevent a nuclear war.  

One thing that I found pleasant about this book was that it wasn't entirely necessary to read the first two novels--certainly, it would have helped in some aspects, but I understood the book very well despite not knowing the events of the first two.  

Svetlana's journey was astonishing and believable.  Her doubt about reuniting with her mother, her mother's ties to people in high places, her desires to be a ballerina...it was all so well constructed and put together.  Historical fiction always impresses me--to even think of researching so much about one time period just to make sure all of the facts are right is just amazing to me.  And then to do it about a completely different culture!  

Overall, this was a pretty fun read.  It wasn't the most amazing thing I've ever read, but it was a good read, and a fun one, and for that I highly recommend it.

Review cross-listed here!
Profile Image for Jessica Macaulay.
63 reviews5 followers
June 14, 2017
Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn has a lot going for it from the integration of Russian words and phrases to the incorporation of meticulously researched historical fact, and from the beautiful imagery to a complicated love story that could have entertained on it’s own. But what I love the most about this book is how strong and prominent the female characters are – very rarely do we see a damsel in distress, and the only mention of hormones comes from the protagonist herself in a completely understandable situation.

I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait for it to hit the shelves later in August as I have a whole host of little ballerinas that I think will absolutely love it! I loved Orphan, Agent, Prima, Pawn as a stand alone text as it was easy to follow, but I have no doubts that I will be tracking down the first two texts in the series ASAP. If you love Ballet, the Cold War, and the KGB and their alternative warfare this might just be the book for you!
Profile Image for Bethel.
885 reviews3 followers
February 5, 2022
Great story from a author who lived in the USSR. This historicial saga begins 1n 1958 and goes up to 2015. The story of Svetana who spent her childhood in a orphanage and rose to be Prima Ballerina with the Bolshoi and did her gig with the KGB. great story and looking forward to the next 2 in the trilogy.
Profile Image for Doreen.
2,459 reviews62 followers
August 6, 2017
8/5/17 Full review tk. Definitely going to look up the first two books, tho.
Profile Image for Erin.
1,105 reviews49 followers
August 7, 2017
Thank you to Soho Teen for sending me a solicited physical copy of this book in exchange for my honest review!

"Three woman robbed of their fathers, hobbled by their mothers, left on their own. Three injured dancers- prisoners, pawns, and devoted acolytes of the Bolshoi Ballet."

When I first heard about this book and what it was about (History, and Spies) I knew I had to get my hands-on it and review it as soon as possible!


Rather you're reading this as a stand-alone or as the final one in the sage. I'm sure you will love reading about what started this journey and how Marina and then Lana were shaped because of Svetlana's choices.
Orphan Agent Prima Pawn is separated into four different parts just like the first two books in the saga DANCER DAUGHTER TRAITOR SPY being the first and HIDER SEEKER SECRET KEEPER being the second book. Each part is a different stage in Svetlana's life all the way from being a child to an adult who is making very tough choices, in order to protect the ones she loves.
It starts off right where the second one ended with Lana meeting Svetlana and starting to learn what happened all those years ago. Told in memories that Svetlana has, we get to see what happened, as well as when we come back to present day, how Lana is handling/processing everything.
We see Svetlana deal with the stigma of being an Orphan (because of her parents becoming enemies of the people), and how she was able to overcome that with Ballet. Then, we see her mom come back into her life and put her in touch with a KGB person who thinks that the 'visions' Svetlana has can help the USSR gain information they need. Meaning Svetlana has to make tough choices when it comes to managing her Ballet career and working for the KGB. We see her find love and real happiness with Viktor and starting a family. And of course we have Georgi (Gosha) throughout the book as well. I really loved getting to see how exactly he was connected to the family, and why he was so loyal to them even after such a long time, and so many losses.
I absolutely loved this book! The history in it is very well researched, and the author did an amazing job of making it seemed like it really could have happened. The Russian language and traditions throughout were well explained, but not overdone. Learning about how Svetlana was able to know the secrets she did and what caused them and how she worked for the KGB was fascinating to me. Getting to see characters from the first one and how they all came to be together was really nice as well.

"No-this much is perfectly clear to Lana: her grandmother, like her mother and like Lana herself, is a victim of their Rodina's tradition in tearing down the pedestals on which heroes are placed. A tradition of recasting roles in the middle of a performance, turning orphans into primas, turning stars into spies, turning dancers into pawns."

It was a wonderful conclusion to a three generation saga and I'm honestly going to miss these characters. (Can we get a companion Georgi novel?)

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1,065 reviews72 followers
July 26, 2017
I've had this from Edelweiss for ages, but only just got around to reading it. Although it says it's the third in a trilogy, the note at the beginning says you don't have to have read the others, and that seemed to be the case, as I haven't but still followed this one with ease. I think I might've understood or engaged with it on a deeper level if I could remember more of my GCSE History module on Soviet Russia and the Cuban Missile Crisis and so on; instead that's only a dim memory, taunting me with the knowledge that I used to know this stuff and I don't anymore. That said, I didn't need that knowledge to follow the plot, I just think it might've helped.

My interest in Russian history and in ballet meant this was in many ways an ideal book for me. And I did enjoy it, but I would say that I never felt I entirely connected with it on an emotional level. I was interested in the plot -- I was reading while cooking dinner and while eating it, because I wanted to know what happened -- but I didn't FEEL all that much. I also found I was occasionally confused about how much time had passed, because there were periodically jumps forward and I couldn't quite figure out how many years had passed. Paying more attention to chapter headings might've helped there, but it's hard on Kindle and I think some were missing due to it being an ARC, as well, so that didn't make it easy.

More detailed review to hopefully follow when I'm home with more consistent WiFi.
Profile Image for Heather Taylor.
862 reviews
January 7, 2018
What a great end to this series. I haven't read a lot about the cold war. It was interesting to learn a little bit about the time period. I loved how the third book went back to before the first and third everything up. A very intriguing book!
Displaying 1 - 13 of 13 reviews

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