The world renowned Montverre academy has for centuries been a place where promising youngsters are trained in the discipline known simply as the 'grand jeu', a mix of music and mystical moves, but behind its prestige and fame lie secrets and tragedies. Léo Martin was once a student there, a winner of awards, but he gave it up and turned to politics. Now, after a rash comment in the wrong place, he's back at Montverre, in exile, with his promising career in tatters. His old college has changed though; one of their highest teaching posts is held by a woman, Claire Dryden, towards whom Léo is drawn, despite her seeming disdain for him.
As with Collins' previous novel The Binding, this is a multi-layered, multi-faceted story, of love, deception, and betrayals of several kinds, set against a backdrop of a world that isn't quite ours. Montverre in its mountainous setting sounds French but feels like it belongs further east. The government that Léo offends has many of the hallmarks of the early stages of the Nazis rise to power - a leader demanding absolute loyalty, persecution of a religious minority, the shutting down of educational and artistic academies who aren't prepared to support the Party fully. Against this menacing backdrop, the stories of Léo, Claire and others within Montverre play out, moving between 'present day' and Léo's student days which ended in tragedy.
It's captivating and escapist, while at the same time warning of the dangers of allowing arts and education to become twisted for political ends. Since reading The Betrayals, I've watched The Queen's Gambit on Netflix, and I think if you've been gripped by that then this is a book for you.
Maryom's review - 4.5 stars
Publisher - Harper Collins (The Borough Press)
Genre - Adult fiction