Red Sparrow (novel)

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Red Sparrow
Red Sparrow
AuthorJason Matthews
GenreSpy fiction, mystery, thriller
WebsiteRed Sparrow

Red Sparrow is a novel written by Jason Matthews, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, published by Scribner on June 4, 2013. The book describes the mundane aspects of the intelligence field, the techniques it employs, and Red Sparrow's unique ability to discern the nature of people by seeing their emotions in colors (through synesthesia).[1]


Dominika Egorova, or "Red Sparrow", is a former Russian ballerina who is forced by her uncle to undergo espionage training for the Russian government at the Sparrow School, where people are trained to seduce their targets. Other key figures are Marble, a Russian double agent who provides intelligence to the CIA, and Nate Nash, a CIA internal-ops officer who recruits and handles intelligence assets for the agency.[1][2]

Each chapter in the book, as well as its two sequels, includes a reference to a specific prepared food, and ends with a recipe for it.[3]


James Burridge and Michael Bradford, reviewing the book for the CIA's website, praised the book for its authentic depiction of surveillance and countersurveillance techniques, calling it "accurate [and] richly detailed", and positively comparing the book's plausibility to the work of John le Carré. Burridge and Bradford also praised the characters as having been richly drawn, and for the avoidance of cliches, though they felt that the Russian supporting characters were not as nuanced as their American counterparts. The reviewers noted the distracting nature of the recipes at the end of each chapter, saying they could be easily skipped, and cautioned readers about the most explicit sex scenes they had ever encountered in the espionage genre.[3]

In 2014, the book won two literary awards, ITW Thriller Award for Best First Novel[4] and the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author.[5] The Washington Post says of Matthews's skill as a writer, "Sly descriptions abound, from the 'poached-egg eye' of a Russian assassin to the 'grimy catechisms' of those Sparrow School lessons. And despite a tendency toward point-of-view whiplash shifts, the author inhabits voices and perspectives with an impressionist's aplomb, whether the rich patter of a CIA agent recounting an Istanbul adventure or those dry reports in the 'abbreviated style of the semiliterate Soviet'."[1]

Film adaptation[edit]

Before the book was published, Matthews sold the movie rights for Red Sparrow for a seven-figure amount. He was also awarded a contract for a sequel to the book.[3] The sequel named Palace of Treason was published in 2015. He also wrote a third volume named The Kremlin's Candidate in 2018. The film adaptation of Red Sparrow in 2018, stars Jennifer Lawrence and Joel Edgerton.[6]


  1. ^ a b c "'Red Sparrow', a fantastic new spy thriller by former CIA operative Jason Matthews". The Washington Post. October 14, 2013. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  2. ^ Jason Matthews (June 2, 2013). "Sunday Book Review - Spy vs. Spy - 'Red Sparrow'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c James Burridge; Michael Bradford (May 1, 2014). Intelligence in Public Literature -  Red Sparrow. Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  4. ^ "International Thriller Writers – Past Nominees and Winners". Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  5. ^ "Category List – Best First Novel | Edgars Database". Retrieved February 27, 2017.
  6. ^ Ford, Rebecca (December 6, 2016). "Matthias Schoenaerts, Jeremy Irons Joining Jennifer Lawrence in 'Red Sparrow' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.