A Dangerous Year by Kes Trester

A Dangerous Year by Kes TresterInterweaving a fast-paced espionage thriller with a starting-at-a-new-school social comedy, Trester creates a gestalt plot that will appeal to more than fans of either genre.

The only child of an American ambassador, Riley Collins has spent most of her seventeen years moving from one dangerous capital city to another. And, with her mother long dead, the only other fixture in her life has been Benson, the head of her father’s security detail. Which has given her a grounding in all the skills of a spy. So, when she draws the attention of terrorists in Pakistan, accepting the US State Department’s offer of a temporary job in the States seems ideal for everyone: she’s a continent away from the threat; and they get someone trained in espionage and combat who isn’t on anyone’s radar. However, there are two issues: the job requires her to attend one of the country’s leading boarding schools; and she needs to protect her room-mate from a myriad unknown enemies without revealing to her that she’s more than another student. But how hard can it really be to be a rich girl?

Trester opens with an accessible yet gritty portrayal of modern Pakistan from the perspective of US teenager with only masculine supervision. This provides an immediately plausible reason for both why Riley has enough competence to be considered for a covert-bodyguard role at seventeen, and why an ambassador’s daughter doesn’t have the training to effortlessly fit into the social mêlée of expensive education.

However, once Riley’s – albeit objectively disrupted – comfort zone has been established, Trester adds a more traditional young adult thread of peer pressure, popularity, and the opposite sex.

The interweaving of these two threads produces a high-tech spy thriller where, instead of wondering if a lingering glance is the start of a honey-trap, the protagonist isn’t sure whether it means they like her or whether she likes likes them

While this will make the plot appealing to fans of young adult tropes, Trester skilfully avoids both cliché and overloading. As such, the twists and reversals Riley faces identifying the real conspiracies while remaining concealed herself are given page time more than sufficient to create an engaging thriller. If anything, the specific challenges of carrying out an operation in a boarding school rather than an office or other classic thriller location add a pleasing lack of spy clichés, granting a fresh perspective on the espionage novel.

Trester similarly both conforms to and uses the tropes of each genre in her characterisation. Riley’s prior experience makes her a plausible hero, but her youth (and inexperience with being a normal teenager) prevent her from recognising and breezing through non-deadly threats the way Bond might. She also – unlike the protagonists of some YA titles – puts dealing with the potentially evil conspiracy ahead of blithering about which maybe-crush to pick, preventing readers who prefer a more sensible hero from wearing their teeth away.

The supporting cast are similarly both immediately recognisable character-types from their respective genres (the mean girl, the gruff but kind-hearted warrior, the guy with perfect hair) yet given depth and freshness by the cross-fertilisation of the other.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel immensely. I recommend it to readers seeking a fast-paced thriller that happens to be set in a school as well as those actively seeking young adult.

I received an advance review copy from the publisher with a request for a fair review.

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