by Lindsay Smith
Series: Sekret #1
Publication Date: 01 April 2014
Roaring Brook Press, Hardcover, 341 pages
An empty mind is a safe mind.
Yulia knows she must hide her thoughts and control her emotions to survive in Communist Russia. But if she sometimes manipulates the black market traders by reading their thoughts when she touches their skin, so what? Anything to help her survive.
Russia’s powerful spy agency, the KGB, is recruiting young people with mind-reading capabilities for their psychic espionage program. Their mission: protect the Soviet space program from American CIA spies. Why shouldn’t the KGB use any means necessary to make the young psychic cooperate? Anything to beat the American capitalist scum to the moon.
Yulia is a survivor. She won’t be controlled by the KGB, who want to harness her abilities for the State with no regard for her own hopes and dreams. She won’t let handsome Sergei plan her life as a member of elite Soviet society, or allow brooding Valentin to consume her with his dangerous mind and even more dangerous ideas. And she certainly won’t become the next victim of the powerful American spy who can scrub a brain raw—and seems to be targeting Yulia.
I had had high hopes for Sekret since it was set in 1963 Russia (I have this weird fascination with the history of the country) and had psychics. That’s got to be a pretty good combination. However, when I just started reading it, I had been rather disappointed.
Sekret started off slow and unfortunately boring with the introduction to the KGB (KaGeBeznik), the fictional – I think – Russian spy agency featured in the story. Although the protagonist, Yulia, was just as new to life in the KGB as readers were, Yulia settled into the pattern a little too easily while readers were probably still trying to grasp the world-building. The world-building – despite being intricate – also seemed convoluted at times.
The main plot in Sekret revolved around the hunting down of a mysterious American spy who can literally scrub people’s mind clean and the work the KGB leader has for the young psychics in the KGB program. At this point, wipe any thoughts you have about a happy, enriching program for young adults with special abilities (like maybe in X-Men?) out of your head. The program Yulia and the other psychics were put in was nothing short of prison in a more hospitable package. Also, if they failed to cooperate or follow orders, either they themselves or their family and friends would be tortured, likely both mentally and physically.
With the given setting, Sekret had huge potential to make an exciting story but Smith channeled too much of a boring prison-like vibe, causing the plot to be slow and uninteresting at times. Moreover, some scenes’ description went a little over the top, including many details that only made the book duller instead of bringing it to life.
Moving on to the protagonist, Yulia wasn’t a very relatable character at first; her personality had seemed slightly messy and indistinct, and her impulsiveness made her come off a little stupid. It was clear she desperately wanted to escape the KGB and told herself about a gazillion times she needed to be smart and patient about it. However, the elaborate escape plans she came up with only sounds pretty good in your head because when applied to real life, they would inevitably fail. If Yulia was supposed to be a clever person, it definitely didn’t work out.
Yet towards the second half of the novel, Smith probably had a better grasp on the protagonist’s personality because that was when Yulia finally started acting like an unique individual and not a jumbled mess of various ‘traits a good protagonist should have’.
Prior to reading this novel and also towards the beginning, I was quite icky about the prospect of a love triangle. The synopsis made it sound like such a definite thing that was bound to occur. To those who’re feeling the same way I did, let me assure you there will be no love triangle, or at least nothing of the sort where the girl is indecisive and all she thinks about is which guy to pick. I promise there’s none of that nastiness.
Despite my complaints, I did enjoy the novel towards its end. The action finally picked up there and the characters at last did something effective out of their own choice and not that of the KGB’s. Oh right, and it was actually impressive and well-planned when they decided to properly use both their brains and their abilities in synchronisation. See kids, not that hard after all! By ‘kids’ I really mean the Yulia with crappy escape plans in the earlier part of the novel.
As for the historical accuracy of Sekret, I can’t say much about it because I’ve only studied up to Stalin’s Reign of Terror in History last year while Sekret takes place after that era. But from what I’ve seen in reviews from others, it was pretty accurate in the parts that were meant to be accurate.
Overall, I would say this was quite an okay book. I honestly didn’t have much hope for it while experiencing the snail-paced beginning but the unexpected and exhilarating end was definitely worth the boredom at the start. Would I continue reading the sequel? I guess similarly with most of the other books hovering around 3 stars, it would be a maybe.