"The Secret Speech" and "Agent 6" by Tom Rob Smith | Book Reviews

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After being blown away by Child 44 (check out my review here), I pretty much had to restrain myself from starting the next book immediately. Though Child 44 didn't end on a cliffhanger, I could not wait to read more about Leo and whatever new challenges Tom Rob Smith had in store for him, so I knew I was going to finish the trilogy. As you can see, this didn't take long, so I thought I would combine the reviews for The Secret Speech and Agent 6 in one post. Overall, the trilogy is definitely worth checking out not only for the thrills, but also for a well-researched historical perspective, though I would definitely recommend the first two books over the third one.  

The Secret Speech

Series: Leo Demidov (Book #2)
Genre: Thriller, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 496
First Published: 2009

★★★★☆

The title of The Secret Speech refers to a real-life event: the new Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev giving a shocking speech in which he acknowledged Stalin's crimes. This new political climate in the country sets an interesting backdrop for the story, puts certain things in motion, and leaves some characters in a questionable position based on their previous actions. The story opens with an important event in Leo's past—his first assignment, and later in the book we start understanding why this is so important. The Secret Speech lacks the murder mystery aspect Child 44 had, but it still keeps you on the edge of your seat once the story gets going. It's also worth noting that just like Child 44, this book is a complete story on its own and could definitely be treated as a standalone novel. 

The Secret Speech has a lot to do with Leo adjusting to his new life and trying to do what's right for his family. I loved his character and the way he kept growing as a person. However, someone I didn't like as much was Zoya—one of his adopted daughters. While she has been through a lot as a child, her actions were obnoxious, and her hostile attitude was often uncalled for. She created so many problems, and often I felt that if only she wasn't being ridiculous—half of the issues would have been solved. This doesn't necessarily make her a badly written character—just one that I was very annoyed with.

Just like in Child 44, there are a lot of interesting themes in The Secret Speech. Some are lightly touched on, some are more developed, but the novel definitely gives you a lot to think about and research. Aside from the political situation, it also touches on attitudes towards religion, the workings of an underground movement, and how a person's social status can drastically change in a very short amount of time. However, the main theme of this book and the question that keeps coming up is this: is it possible for someone who has done terrible things to achieve redemption? This isn't something that only has to do with Leo—if you consider the characters and circumstances of The Secret Speech, you will find this theme echoing through the entire novel. As for the answer—it's not an easy one, and it's something Tom Rob Smith leaves for his readers to decide.

Overall, I felt conflicted about rating this book. On one hand, I really enjoyed it, and there were some very nerve-racking parts. On the other, I did miss the mystery aspect I loved in Child 44, and personally I don't particularly enjoy the subject of thieves and gangs (something that was a big part of The Secret Speech). In the end, I'm still really happy I read it, and I definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the first novel in this series.

Onto the last Leo Demidov book...

Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

Agent 6

Series: Leo Demidov (Book #3)
Genre: Thriller, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 545
First Published: 2011

★★½☆☆

As you can tell by my rating, I did not get along very well with Agent 6. It's hard to even explain the premise of the book without ruining a big portion of it, but I will do my best. The book spans over a long period of time, starting with the pre-evolved Leo in 1950 and going all the way to 1980s. It also takes place in three different countries: USSR, USA, and Afghanistan. Leo in Agent 6 is a man struggling to adjust to family life by letting go of his old habits, and yet it may be the case when his old habits are what's actually needed. 

Just like the other two books, this one starts with a look at Leo's past. This is actually a part that I enjoyed quite a bit because it took me back to when Leo and Raisa first met—him as a promising government agent, and her as a smart beautiful school teacher. Going forward to 1965, it seems like the tables have turned—Raisa's career is in its peak, while Leo seems to have trouble turning a new leaf in his life. For a large portion of this book he is a secondary character, which actually didn't work very well for me, since he is a character I was most interested in throughout this book series. Of course, the politics are very important in Agent 6 as well, and here we get to explore a bit of the Cold War along with the darker side of American politics. Compared to the first two books, this novel has about as much political setup, but isn't balanced as well by the thrills and tension. I can't say that the whole USA vs. USSR theme worked very well. For me, the most interesting part of this book (aside from the flashback into Leo's past) was the Afghanistan section, which doesn't happen until later in the book.

Throughout the entire Leo Demidov trilogy, Tom Rob Smith does a great job approaching the themes of his books from different angles, and making the readers consider different sides of the argument. The main theme of Agent 6 is (unexpectedly) love, though thankfully, it's far from a romance novel. While love may have to do with another person, a family, a country, a set of beliefs—what the author explores is how love begins, and also how it ends. It may be a slightly depressing subject to consider, but it's still a fascinating one.

On the technical side of things, I thought this book had quite a few problems. First of all, it felt like two different stories merged into one. When the first part of the book finally comes into play again at the very end, it's too late. Second, the climax and ending were lackluster for me, and I was underwhelmed by the neat little bow everything ended up being tied up in. Overall, I struggled to get through this book, and I don't know how long would it have taken me to finish it if I weren't listening to the audiobook.

Sadly, I found Agent 6 to be disappointing. There were certain aspects of it I liked, but as a whole I can't say I enjoyed it very much. I can't really recommend this book, unless you're really committed to finishing the series. Personally, I would suggest stopping after The Secret Speech.

Have any of you finished the Leo Demidov trilogy? What did you think?