Here we are with Book 2 of Ailish Sinclair’s ‘A Dancer’s Journey’. Think of it as the second act in a three act ballet – the one where everyone runs around in a riot of colour and sexuality (more or less explicit depending on the date of the original production).
We start with Aleks and Amalphia back in the castle after the drama of Tendu. All seems well, but Aleks is worried that Amalphia is being drawn into a permanent relationship without any other life experience. She should, he thinks, live life on her own for a while, meeting other men and finding out what the city has to offer, rather than burying herself in a Scottish rural idyll.
It’s not a totally mad idea and it sets us up for whole novel’s worth of sex and experimentation but – I don’t know, it doesn’t quite do it for me.
Re-reading my review of Tendu, I said Amalphia came over as very young and slightly out of her depth sexually. This goes double (triple, literally at one point) in Cabriole. Perhaps it’s just that I’m a sad old man, but the frantic sex and the constant angst got me down a bit. This is a girl who is beautiful (she always denies it but the modelling shoots give you a clue), talented and sexy, but who spends so much time and energy moaning.
“I was aware that my state of mind was not quite as balanced as it should be; it took very little to send me into a state of dread. A sweet and sickly scent had me recoil and stagger back in the dressing room one afternoon. Someone was wearing the perfume that Michelle had always used… The other girls looked at me and turned away, my role as social outcast more solidified than ever.
At home too, irrational panic would sometimes rise. Was the pain in my legs my own or was I sensing that Aleks was ill or hurt?”
She drifts straight into a job with a well-respected company and I know enough about ballet to have some idea of just how amazing that would be to most people just starting out. Most outrageously, a lover has given her a luxury apartment in London: seven figures worth of property in a city where many young people (especially in the arts) dream of any sort of flat at all. (A dancer friend of mine was kept awake by the sound of rats running across the ceiling of her room.) Does she just luxuriate in the wonderfulness of her life? No, she’s in her early twenties, so she just works on her inner Emo.
What should make it all more fun (for her and the reader) is the sex. Lots of it. Lots of boys, lots of permutations. But it doesn’t really work. She finds that kink (very mild kink, if truth be told) isn’t really doing it for her. And it’s all really quite tame. I live in London. I have dancey young friends. Honestly, Malph, darling, what you’re describing is what people I know call ‘Friday’. (And, to be clear, I have the dullest, most monogamous life you can imagine and even my friends are more exciting than this.)
The story (and the sex) only really comes alive when Aleks returns to the scene which, fortunately for the reader and Amalphia, is quite often. He’s all Ukrainian and godlike, turning her on by speaking Ukrainian in bed. (Side note: why is this sexy? The only time this has ever come up in conversation with my friends was Czechs who insisted that English was the sexiest language for lovers. Perhaps, in the interests of scientific enquiry, I should run a survey.) He is a brilliant character.
There’s another man. I can’t say who because Spoilers. In comparison to Aleks he is, frankly, dull. But nice. And good.
Amalphia is torn. How to resolve the agonising choice she faces: the amazing sex god or the nice guy who truly and straightforwardly loves her.
This is the crux of the book, the point that justifies everything that has gone before. And, sadly, I can’t say anything about it because if I do then Ailish (and possibly you, dear reader) will have to kill me for ruining a satisfying conclusion. Because the conclusion really is good. According to Ms Sinclair, it was too shocking for her publishers to cope with. And, unlike all the sexual shenanigans, it’s genuinely different.
Cabriole was always going to struggle to keep up with Tendu. Tendu had a mad scientist and terrible experiments in a secret dungeon and lots and lots of Aleks (OK, maybe I’ve got a bit of a crush on Aleks) and it was totally insane, but huge fun. Cabriole is more a journey through a confused young woman’s life and I seem to know enough confused young women (at my age, everyone seems young) not to find the fictional versions that exciting. But it’s a fun story and Sinclair writes well and the insights into the ballet world are interesting and, by the end, I’m held again. The third book in the series should be well worth the wait.
Cabriole is available on Kindle at £3.99 (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Cabriole-Dancing-City-Dancers-Journey-ebook/dp/B0CGJ1QP4G) or in paperback at £13.99.