This review can also be found at queerlyreads.com.
“Do you know what turns me on more than success?” Victoria runs her fingers through Anna’s hair, stopping short to tug at it with intent.
“What?” Anna rasps. “Tell me.”
Take The Devil Wears Prada and mix it with Yuri on Ice, a wide cast of characters and high pressure setting similar to C.S. Pacat's Fence, a dash of Laurent from The Captive Prince paired with your favorite Hufflepuff, and bam—we've come pretty close to describing the wonderful lesbian perfection that is The Music and the Mirror.
Every time I thought this book would go somewhere tedious—based on past books I've read—it didn't. It went somewhere unexpected that at the same time felt completely inevitable in retrospect, the sign of the well-structured, well-plotted, well-written book. The first 40% of the book set up everything that came after, so firmly developing the characters that, when the conflict rolled in, I realized that I was hooked on the characters as much as the plot. There were pages where every line of dialogue made me squee, because I loved these characters and their relationships so much.
I loved Victoria's coldness and snappy one-liners as much as I loved the vulnerability she eventually showed. I didn't like Anna at first—she was both too simple and too perfect, the same reason not all of her colleagues took to her immediately—but I loved the steel she eventually revealed, and how her unbreakable moral compass became not a bland remnant of her Iowan childhood, but her strongest asset.
The drama unfolded so naturally that I felt like I had (happily) fallen into a trap, taken the bait that was all the scenes before it, until finally I saw Victoria and Anna as a duo I would root for to the hard-earned end. I rarely feel this passionate about single books; it usually takes a sequel, at least, to make me cry and celebrate right alongside the characters. There's a tremendous amount of character development in The Music and the Mirror, none of which feels rushed or forced, and it left me joyous and winded.
“If we put you on stage like this,” Victoria murmurs, “they’ll be throwing themselves at you from the aisles. They say ballet can’t be hot? We’re going to screw with gender, with convention, and they won’t be able to take their eyes off you.”
The setting absolutely sings. In a lot of sports books, the sport is an afterthought; the long practice sessions are crammed in between the personal drama, mentioned as a side bit rather than actually described. Here, we're taken into the studios where foul-mouthed, bad-ass ballerinas fight tooth and nail to move up the ladder, their ambitions just as on display as their designer tutus. I don't know the author's background, but it really felt like Lola Keeley knew exactly what it's like to be a former Russian prima ballerina, or a young woman hoping to make it big in New York dance. The book embraces everything from ballet's otherworldly sensuality and grace to its gritty, backstage painkillers and bone fractures.
“This bastard dance we all live and die for, it doesn’t care for us so much.”
I loved this book. Every single character was interesting and memorable, and I want more. So much more. This wonderful story will make me demand more from f/f in the future, too. <3 Lola Keeley is my new insta-preorder author.
I'll leave you with this:
Distracted, it isn't until Anne reaches for her locker that she realizes she has company.
"The comparison has been made," Victoria drawls. "But he only walked on water, not en pointe."