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After years of blood, sweat and tears, ballet dancer Ava Kirilova has finally reached the top of her profession. As the poster girl for Swan Lake and the daughter of the London Russian Ballet Company’s intense and uncompromising director, Ava is both revered and feared by her fellow dancers. She might have been born to play the dual lead of Odette/Odile in her father’s hotly anticipated ballet, but Ava can’t afford to get complacent. Becoming a principal dancer is hard enough. It’s keeping your place at the top that’s the real battle – and Ava has plenty of young, hopeful and ambitious girls nipping at her heels, ready to steal her spot should she fall.

As opening night approaches, Ava begins to crack under the pressure of maintaining the perfection that her purist father demands. On stage she’s adored, but away from the spotlight, Ava is lonely and paranoid, feelings that are magnified by the sense that someone is lurking in the wings, watching and waiting for her to fail. Ava might think that it’s all in her head, that she’s just suffering from the usual pre-performance jitters, but someone really is waiting in the shadows; someone who wants everything Ava has and wants it badly enough that people will pay with their lives.

“What they didn’t understand – what nobody understood – was that the higher you flew, the farther you had to fall.”

Erin Kelly’s Watch Her Fall is set within the cutthroat, elitist world of professional ballet, yet the bulk of the novel actually takes place away from the stage. The tours and performances offer glamour and distinction, but what happens when all that disappears; when someone who’s tenaciously trained their whole life for one thing has it cruelly ripped away from them? What kind of psychological effect would that have on a person? In the case of this story, the mental strain on the dancers goes way beyond the pain they experience physically. It leads to a stunner of a twist that’s so unexpected that it will change the whole way you view the plot and its damaged characters.

With suspense and intensity, Kelly explores the dark internal battles that ballerinas go through behind the curtain, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is your typical Black Swan copycat rivalry-thriller. Watch Her Fall has hidden layers and a surprising emotional depth too. Running alongside Ava’s story is that of Juliet, a dancer struggling to adjust to life after an irreparable injury, and Maxim, an immigrant who fled his native Ukraine in search of a better life, only to find himself mixed up in more than one crime. These characters are all dealing with different kinds of grief, loss, self-loathing and desperation but what binds them is their sheer will to survive, even when they’ve had everything they love and live for taken away.

Watch Her Fall is a psychological thriller that takes readers into the passionate, prestigious and hyper competitive world of ballet, where betrayal materialises in many forms: from fellow dancers and oppressive parents, to broken bodies and fragile minds. It is without doubt Erin Kelly’s best novel yet.

★★★★

Watch Her Fall was published by Hodder & Stoughton on 1 April 2021

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