I have to say, I’m surprised by how passionately some of the reviewers on Goodreads hate Dance of Shadows. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, and until the ending I was prepared to give this novel a four-star rating.
Dance of Shadows is a nice departure from the usual dance books in that it isn’t all about how cutthroat the world of ballet can be. You definitely get a glimpse of the intense pressure and fierce competition that usually exists in serious ballet schools and companies, but this story is about more than simply trying to be the best dancer the world’s ever seen. Vanessa is an extraordinarily talented ballerina, and she works hard and loves dancing, but it’s not the center of her universe. This was such a relief to me, because I’ve read several books in which ballerinas are so desperate to succeed, so obsessed with dancing, that “ballerina” seems to be their sole character trait; they become one-dimensional, indistinguishable from any other girl in any other dance novel. It was great to see that this was avoided in Dance of Shadows.
Another element I liked about this novel is the suspense. As mentioned in the blurb above, Vanessa’s primary motivation for coming to the New York Ballet Academy is to solve the mystery of her sister’s disappearance. As Vanessa and her new friends at the academy begin to investigate, they discover that Margaret is only the latest of many girls to mysteriously vanish from the school. This chilling revelation leads Vanessa to suspect that there’s much more to the NYBA than meets the eye, and when she begins to have strange visions and out-of-body experiences, her fear deepens. As the creepy occurrences grew, I found myself on the edge of my seat, anxious to see what the ending would bring.
When I finally got to the big reveal, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed – hence why Dance of Shadows dropped from 4 stars to 3. The conclusion is so far out there, so jarringly different from what I expected it to be, that it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the book. It jolted me out of the story and really turned me off.
Another letdown is Vanessa’s relationship with Zep, the lead male dancer at NYBA. Zep starts out great, an alluring mix between electrifying mystery man and sweet, shy boy-next-door. The scenes in which he and Vanessa dance together are some of my favorites in this book, practically sizzling with sexual energy. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t really lead to much, and Zep’s character slowly loses its appeal as he becomes flat and predictable in the last half of the book.
Despite its flaws – specifically the ending – I liked Dance of Shadows quite a bit. I’d recommend it for anyone who’s into books about ballet or appreciates some good old-fashioned suspense.