Trick of the Spotlight – M. L. East

When I decided to read this book, I knew close to nothing about South Korea, with two exceptions: the movie Parasite and an undiscussed and unbiased love for kimchi. The small immersion in this foreign culture made me want to discover more, because the world M.L. East described is interesting AF. After finishing my read, I’m intrigued by this unique place and I want to read more about it, so please, if you have a book or a film to suggest, drop it in the comments.

As you might have suspected, I’m about to review Trick of the Spotlight, by M. L. East. I discovered this little gem on twitter, one of the places to be if you are trying to move your first steps as an author. As usual, this review contains spoilers, most of which will be hidden behind white text. Some might still be inferred though, so read at your own peril.

The first thing I need to point out is how impressed I am that this is a debut novel.

I mean, there is nothing sloppy or inaccurate about this book. On the contrary, the flow is impeccable. Seriously, after two difficult reads and a DNF, being able to pick up a book and read it without having to pause in order to take care of a building migraine is refreshing. Re-fresh-ing, I say.

Considering how young this author is –seems to be, since my judgment on her age is purely based on her Goodreads picture– I have great expectations for her next projects.

Now, back to the book. I might have mentioned somewhere in a previous review how hard it is for me to imagine things –be it places, objects, colors or even faces– when I read about them. In fact, I tend to have issues with long descriptions because I feel bombed with details without knowing what to make of them. The world M. L. East crafted however is vivid without ever being over descriptive, which allowed me to let my imagination roam free and enjoy what was happening onstage.

And while we are talking about stage, let’s consider how many characters there are in this novel. Is not unusual for stories to have many, and it is common for a lot of background ones to be quite similar. Several experienced authors have this wall of secondary characters that somehow feel all the same, to the point that they could be swapped without the reader even noticing. Sad, huh? In Trick of the Spotlight though each character, from the main ones to Shin Hyejin –Namgi’s driver that is onstage maybe twice– has very clear and distinguishable features. No swapping possible, which is awesome if not perfect. Bravo!

Throughout the book, a lot of main characters happen to be onstage at the same time. An effort is required to memorize who is whom at first, which is normal and not a critique: imagine being in a room with some people you don’t know and having to remember them all. Anyway, the process is quite easy in this novel, because not only each character has different behavioral and physical traits, but they also have very distinguishable voices. They talk differently, use unique expressions, have different mannerisms. Getting to know and understand them all is not hard at all. And it is fun.

On this topic, let me point out how starstruck I was when Kit, the main character, met the members of Vortex, and how much it made me want to be at the show with her. And don’t even get me started on the humor. There are a lot of hilarious moments in this novel, many of which thanks to the (often involuntarily) funny Bae Namgi. What a character! Which takes me to my next point: while I was reading this novel I laughed, I cried, I hoped. I don’t think a bigger praise than saying to an author ‘Hey, your book moved me’ exists.

We read to feel, after all.

Hey, I made it to here without spoiling anything. Let’s see if I manage to end this review without a single white patch.

So, let’s move on with the little pet peeves I have, shall we?

While it is nothing major, I didn’t care much for all the explaining about consent and orientation-related issues. Not that I don’t think they are important, because they are and the whole world should be more sensible about them, but I believe a lot of Kit’s thoughts about them were redundant. I was already shown what her opinions on the topic were, so I don’t feel I needed to be also told about them. Pausing the story to have the main character ponder on these topics kinda altered the flow of the story, in which her behavior was already reflecting her thoughts about them.

On an semi-related note, it seemed to me that after Saichi’s revelation all the attention shifted from Kit to the guys, especially toward the end, when Kit disappeared into being a spectator in her own world. Not that being a narrator and a secondary main character isn’t possible –ever heard of Watson, Sherlock Holmes’ narrator?– it’s just that, to me, consistency is key and since Kit was the main character for most of the story I wanted the rest of the plot to be driven by her too. Ok, here’s the spoiler. I lost. I’m talking about the scene in which the guys and Kit look for Ryo after he’s disappeared. There was no point for Kit to be there, and my humble guess is that the writer felt it as well, because she had an accident happen to Kit to shift the attention back to her.

At this point, what I wanted was for Kit to recover and process the aftermath of the boat trip, to come to terms with the fact that Saichi was no longer hers, not only rationally but also emotionally. I wanted her to be on the verge of breaking down before receiving the surprise visit in the last chapter. And then, I wish she hadn’t given an immediate answer because I feel that leaving the question hanging would have been a great cliffhanger for the sequel. Imagine the drama: Kit broken for having just lost someone she loved and then being blackmailed by this incredibly powerful woman into marrying someone who despises her. Would she accept? Would she go back to the USA with her tail between her legs? Would she find another way to get out of the situation? In my opinion, cliffhangers are a powerful instrument to use when your readers are already invested in your main character, and this was the perfect moment to use one.

That said, I enjoyed reading this book, and, cliffhanger or not, I can’t wait for the sequel. For the reasons I’ve stated above I am rating it 7.5/10, and I am looking forward to follow M. L. East’s growth as an author book after book.

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