Palace of Treason (Red Sparrow Trilogy #2), by Jason Matthews

Eight stars

Having taken the time to check out this interesting espionage series, I am intrigued to see where Jason Matthews intends on taking things with Nate and Dominika. He does not disappoint in this middle novel, the true ‘meat’ of the trilogy. After a harrowing end to the first novel, Dominika is back in Russia, working hard for the SVR and helping to run a discrete but highly important mission. Using a ‘Sparrow’ under her, Dominika is able to obtain top secret Iranian nuclear documents from a high-ranking official. With Iran’s sanctions and the Western attempt to nullify their nuclear program, Dominika could bring back information that would prove Russia is seeking to countermand the international order and facilitate an ongoing nuclear program in Iran. Her success brings Dominika into the inner circle and merits high praise from President Putin himself, who may have his eye on her for some of his own personal gifts. As covertly as she can, Dominika reaches out to CIA operative Nate Nash, now stationed in Athens, to deliver the information she has, in hopes of giving the Americans the proof they need that the sanctions are being violated right under their noses. Meeting in a neutral location, Dominika and Nash exchange news and set-up a ruse to ensure the CIA learns first-hand what is going on. However, that encounter ends disastrously and almost costs Dominika everything, though Nate is able to ascertain the long-range plan that Putin has with the Iranian Government. Trying to keep Dominika under cover and yet turn her into the next American mole, Nate must work day and night, risking everything, while also trying to downplay his emotional connection to this SVR agent. Sparks turn to a raging fire between them, leaving both Nate and Dominika unable to define what is going on between them, while violating CIA orders with each passing second. Wanting to keep Dominika inside Russia but still able to report, Nate organises a handler to be providing the needed link to the Agency. Nate helps train Hannah Archer, whose wiles appear to match those of Dominika in almost every way. Sure that his encounters with Dominika will become report analysis only, Nate allows himself to fall into the clutches of this woman, though the thought of his beloved SVR agent remains front and centre in his brain. When the Russians eventually learn of a new mole, they scour their entire intelligence apparatus, sure that the weak link will surface in enough time for another brutal final solution. With Dominika still in good standing with President Putin, she can only hope that her truth has not been revealed and that he is not toying with her. Nate will do anything he can to protect her, both as an agent and because of their connection. However, sometimes it is better to cut one’s losses, especially when the Russians are on the other side. Another brilliant novel that furthers the complex espionage that Matthews has come to make all his own. A trilogy that continues to impress many, especially those who love a traditional novel of spy games. Highly recommended to those with the patience and interest in deep-rooted spy novels, à la John Le Carré!

I admit that I started this trilogy because of all the hype it was getting online and stuck with the first novel, which began slowly. I had to remind myself that I am not one who normally reads well-crafted spy novels, which seek to forego the superficial banter and develop over time, enriching the reading experience. This novel picks up the impact from the opening pages, pushing me to immerse myself in all the action without a chance to breathe. Nate Nash and Dominika Egorova may come from different spheres but their dedication cannot be discounted. Matthews does well again, showing that Nash’s love of country can sometimes be clouded when blood rushes from his brain to other extremities, though he would surely call it part of the mission. Matthews adds the complexities of Nash’s inability to treat Dominika simply as a mole and someone who is going to help bring Putin and Russia to their knees, but that might be one of the greater aspects of his character throughout this piece. Dominika’s secret synesthesia becomes a central part of her character and is used throughout the narrative quite effectively, especially to allow the reader to better understand the emotional banter taking place in a realm (espionage) where the players are encouraged to remain beige. Dominika’s struggle both to stay alive and to resurrect her ‘Sparrow’ persona proves central to the story’s advancement, particularly when Putin is sometimes one of her escapades. Bone-chilling does not begin to describe this sub-plot. Matthews personalises the story effectively with his own experiences within the CIA, pulling me deeper into the narrative and wondering what might come next. The reader can dine on a methodical understanding of the world of espionage with results dependent on the risks undertaken. Extensive mention of cultural dishes throughout the piece is complemented by Matthew’s addition of basic recipes embedded at the end of each chapter. Lighter fare in a novel full of dark plot development. I cannot wait to get my hands on the final novel to see where it takes the story and how Matthews hopes to tie it all together.

Kudos, Mr. Matthews, for another stellar novel. This series has won me over and I hope to spread the word to anyone who will listen.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: