There’s a novel called Red to Black by Alex Dryden. (It’s only $0.99 on Kindle so you should read it.) It’s extremely anti-Russia but contains some elements of truth. Most importantly, it’s an intriguing story that is well-written. I’ve read it several times and although I actually dislike the two main characters rather intensely, I thoroughly enjoy reading the book every time I pick it up.
I found out recently that this book spawned a whole series. I downloaded the next three books in the series and finished the second one, Moscow Sting, last night. And wow, the different between this book and Red to Black was like night and day. Red to Black is told from a first person point of view. Chronologically, it jumps around a lot, but not in a confusing way. The story is masterfully framed: the one character reads a bunch of papers—a journal of sorts—left behind by another character in addition to telling her own story. It may sound strange, but it’s very well done.
Moscow Sting is completely different. A lot of new characters are introduced and I didn’t really like them. The main character from the prior novel, Anna, is perhaps even more off-putting. One thing that bothered me in Red to Black is how she treats Vladimir, a fellow intelligence officer who loves her very much. I understand that she sees him more as a friend, but she is unnecessarily cruel to him in the first novel, and unfortunately her bad treatment of him continues in Moscow Sting. After seeing what she does to him, it was impossible for me to sympathize with her at all.
So yes, I did finish the book. And complaining aside, I’m glad I read it. I like spy thrillers and reading them makes me think and gives me ideas for my own fiction. I must admit, the whole situation was rather strange: the entire time I was reading the book, I wasn’t rooting for the “good guys” (the Americans and the British, mainly) to win—I was actually rooting for all the pro-Kremlin forces to win because at least they were working against the characters I didn’t like very much!
In case you’re wondering, I’ve started the third book in the series—The Blind Spy. I do intend to read it, even though it’s shaping up to be more like Moscow Sting and less like Red to Black. Why? Because, as I said, spy thrillers make me think, plus The Blind Spy is about Ukraine. To be exact, it takes place during the Ukrainian presidential election in 2010, which I followed avidly on my old blog. (You’ll recall that Viktor Yanukovych won that election.) Several real-life people have made their way into The Blind Spy so far (Putin and Medvedev). I absolutely must find out if Yanukovych will make an appearance, too.
Do you think it is essential for the main character in a novel to be sympathetic? Why or why not?