When I was younger some of my favorite books were stories about ballerinas. I was fascinated by the ability to tell a story through dance. Probably because I have zero talent in that arena. DANCE OF SHADOWS delivers a vivid look at the high-pressure world of being a ballerina-in-training at the prestigious New York Ballet Academy. The author is very skilled at bringing every aspect of this world to life using sensory details and paying close attention to the little things that breathe life into a scene. I could feel the pain in the dancers' feet as they practiced for hours, could see the blocks of resin they rubbed on their shoes before performing, and felt like I was part of the dance as they moved to the music. The language used to describe Vanessa's dancing, and how it felt to push her body to obey her commands, is perfect. High marks to the author for really delivering a book about dance that made me feel like I understood it inside and out.
I also think the premise is strong. The mix of ballet, mystery, and supernatural elements is inspired. I love the idea of taking the dancers' inner demons and making them *real.* The different elements of the plot didn't really hit their stride and start working together seamlessly until the finale, but the climax of the book is strong and leaves the reader with a fascinating set-up for the next book in the trilogy.
What Left Me Wanting More:
As much as I loved the premise, I struggled with the pacing. The plot progresses in fits and bursts, rather than in a smooth arc, and I got impatient with the characters who didn't see obvious clues or try obvious solutions (like calling a missing girl's home to see if she actually went home). By the end of the book, the pacing found its stride, and I hope in the sequel, the author continues that.
I also struggled to like or relate to any of the characters. Vanessa, the heroine, feels distant from the reader. We get little glimpses of emotion from her here and there, but mostly we just move through her days without really scratching her surface. Other characters tell her she's fierce or fascinating etc, but we're left having to take their word for it because we aren't shown examples and allowed to come to that conclusion on our own.
The secondary cast of characters are even more difficult to know. They move in and out of scenes, but we don't know what makes them tick, and without dialogue tags, it would be hard to distinguish which of them was speaking because they all blended into one. The exception is the main choreographer, who is a creepy, mysterious, angry character right from the start and does grab both the reader's and Vanessa's attention.
I also didn't feel anything for the romantic element in the book. There's a huge dose of insta-love that I could write off as Vanessa being young and naive. Young girls can develop instant crushes on a hot boy. But when two hot boys, both three years older than Vanessa, instantly seem to develop feelings for her based on nothing more than looks, I had a hard time taking it seriously. The interactions between them felt stilted and forced, and the swoon factor I was hoping for just never materialized for me.
A fascinating premise and thrilling climax set in the vivid world of a competitive ballet school should be enough to overcome slow pacing and lack of character development for readers who love stories with dance, mystery, and a dose of the supernatural.