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.
Description taken from Goodreads.
I had low expectations for this book when I first got it. The blurb makes it sound like the American is going to be a part of the love fest and that the whole book is going to be this romance-focused, zero-spying, zero-interaction, zero-actual-meat-of-story book. However, I started this book, and I ended it.
And it was fabulous.
Looking back on it, the characters of the hypothetical love square turned out to be my favorite parts of this story. No, the American is not a part of the story and no, this book isn’t really a love triangle. I guess you could argue that it is, but one of the apparent love interests only ever seems to have a chance in the beginning of this story. For those of you who didn’t want to read this book because of the love triangle or the love square or whatever, please do not hold out on this story because of that.
One of the boys is someone that Yulia has an attraction to, but continues not to know how to trust until the end of the book, and even then she’s conflicted. I will say that the romance was a little weak here. The thing is, Yulia really likes this guy from the start. There’s something deeply entrancing about his eyes or something like that. Story goes on, Yulia gets to know guy little by little and begins to trust him somehow. They exchange thoughts, kinda hold hands, trust each other on and off and then BOOM, they’re kissing.
Yeah, the romance was weak, but it’ll get there in the second book (I’m hoping). Lots more development is needed in the second book if this romance is going to last with me at all.
Rather, the guy is a good friend. He’s a mystery, someone that helps Yulia on and off and someone she has a legitimate reason for (maybe) not being able to trust. He’s a good character who needs a little more building, but I loved the way that Smith started him out and I have high hopes for him in the sequel. He plays a major role in this story and, aside from the romance, was a strong character.
Boy #2 never really has a chance. He makes some unfortunate decisions that make it so that he and Yulia can’t really be together. Things pull them apart piece by piece. I do think that, in another situation, they could’ve been a couple worth shipping, but other than that he presents someone who Yulia wants to trust but really can’t (but she decides to anyway on some random moments of stupidity).
Both characters aren’t bad, and both are people that I’m excited to see where they will go in Smith’s next book. As for Yulia, I liked her for the most part. She’s rash and uncontrollable in many ways. She overestimates herself and continues to ignore the facts, but she’s a heroine that I can root for in many ways. She has endearing qualities, such as the way that she’s rash because she wants to protect her family. Yulia’s willing to suffer if it means that her little brother can be safe and well-fed.
Overall, the leads were great. I think they need work, but they were really entertaining over the course of this story, believable, well-rounded and have a lot of potential. The supporting characters were a lot more one-dimensional, and the thing with Ivan and Larissa was cool until it just sort of… stopped. I don’t know what’s going to happen with that later on in the story, but I hope that it comes back again.
As for plot and world-building, Smith’s definitely done her research, and I really feel her love for Russia and for the lives that it holds. The world-building is vibrant and constantly adding subtle details to the landscape to make a fully formed picture in the reader’s mind. The plot goes in loops a few times, but it was entertaining and had a few twists and turns that I really enjoyed reading.
Overall, I would recommend this for those looking for parallel-future type stories, dystopias, historical fiction fans, diverse fiction fans and history nuts. I ended up really enjoying this story and I’m really looking forward to the next book, SKANDAL. If you’ve read this book or just want more like it, I would recommend the PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG series by Anne Blankman or REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly. 3.8 stars.
pg count for the hardback: 341
Series: SEKRET #1