I thought I’d read the novel before seeing the film. (Red Sparrow is just the first novel in a trilogy)
This novel is by an ex CIA agent, so we would presume the spycraft is accurately described. There’s an interesting touch: whenever some dish is mentioned in the text, there’s a recipe at the end of the chapter, should the reader wish to try and replicate the dish.
There’s a long prelude, in which we discover more about the tradecraft skills of Nick, our American hero, an active agent who is sidelined because the Head of Station doesn’t like him. Luckily, he is noticed by another HoS who seems to populate his station with effective if unorthodox agents.
The attention switches to a ballerina, Dominika Egorova, who enjoys synesthesia, and can apparently read moods from colour auras surrounding people. She is brutally crippled by another ballet dancer — on whom she extracts a terminal revenge — and has to rely upon her “friendly” Uncle Vanya (!!) for assistance.
She is valued for her beauty rather than intelligence, and is sent to whore school to be desensitised, taught seduction techniques and become a “Red Sparrow”. If she declines, her mother will lose the family home
and required medical treatment.
In the field, she meets Nick, and sparks fly. They quickly fall into bed together, and Nick seems to lose all reason where tradecraft is concerned.
While the description of losing surveillance, dead drops and other elements of tradecraft — with what appear to be accurate descriptions of cold war locations – keep the reader’s interest, it’s clear that the Americans are the “heroes” of this story (though it’s not clear how they differ from the Russians, if at all).
While it kept my interest to the end of the book, I doubt I’ll bother reading the two sequels. I might catch the film, if only for Charlotte Rampling as the Sparrow Trainer.
Clearly, Dominika is the more intelligent one, managing to overcome suspicion to rise in the Russian FSB. Unfortunately, both the Americans and her Russian allies contrive to keep her in the dark.
Frankly, Atomic Blonde seems a much more interesting spy thriller.