The Traitor (Baru Cormorant) by Seth Dickinson

I’ve had to have a good long think before writing a review for The Traitor.  When I picked up this book I didn’t really know what it was about but I was prepared to be wowed and what I can say straight off is this is a very unusual, unique and thought provoking tale.  I think it’s a story that will satisfy people who want to dwell on the finer elements and mull over the whys and wherefores for days after and, equally, I think it will satisfy those people who want a more immediate fix.

I’m not really going to elaborate too much on the plot.  The core element here is one of revenge.  This is a world that is slowly being dominated by conquering forces known as The Empire of Masks.  Known as such because their officials conduct business behind the cooly anonymity of a mask.  Of course not all the conquering is accomplished by the sword.  This is an empire that are adept at inveigling themselves into a country and slowly making themselves essential.  These conquerors come bearing gifts.  They bring education and law and order.  Unfortunately, long after the appeal of the gifts has worn off, it becomes apparent that they bring less palatable goodies.  They sanitise the country, eliminating customs and years of history.  They sanitise the population stopping what they believe to be unclean behaviour.  They root out those who won’t comply and they also, rather slyly, take those that show the most promise and train them in the hopes of becoming another member of their own elite.

This is a revenge story with a difference that follows the exploits of a young woman (Baru Cormorant) who is determined to undermine this vast empire from within.

When I started reading I was immediately taken with the world created here and was fascinated with Baru’s world and looking at things through her eyes.  Of course, I was reading all this with an ever growing sense of dread – which seems to be the emotion that I felt throughout the entire story.  I admit, though, that I struggled a little in the middle, it’s difficult to say why but this coincided with a part of the book where Baru had left her own island.  At this point there were lots of characters to take on board, all consumed with their own politics and machinations.  There were plots and spies and underground movements and for me personally it felt like I was taking a history lesson somehow.  However, though I did have a little lull in the middle the last third of the book certainly makes up for that.

Now, so far, I don’t think I’m really telling you much about the plot and whilst that feels remiss I think it’s the only way with this particular story.  I could tell you something of the main character – Baru.  What an unusual woman.  To say she’s remarkably driven by her own personal goals would be to massively understate the fact.  Baru is a savant and as such she has been entrusted as an accountant of the Empire.  This is a massively responsible role, made even more so by the fact that she is placed on an island that still displays rebellious undertones.  I think Baru is another reason why I at first struggled a little.  I wouldn’t say that she’s an easy character to engage with – part of me even wonders if her own particular brilliance doesn’t come hand in glove with a certain amount of emotional detachment.  However, you do become invested in the character.  Enough so that you read with an element of fear about what awful repercussions are going to come down the line for her.

So, you’re probably wondering about how gripping a story about an accountant could be (unless of course you’re an accountant and so already know). Well, this is really more about economics and politics to be honest.  It’s not so much that Baru is number crunching but more than that she’s weighing the costs of rebellion, looking at the books and coming up with plans.  On top of this the last chapters of the book are riddled with battles and moments of heart lifting triumph and great sadness.

I began this story intrigued.  I thought I had it’s number but of course I didn’t and that for me is the real beauty.  I was completely suckered in. I was so confident that I knew what was going to happen and I was nowhere near to the truth.  This is very grand in scope, I found the writing a little difficult to get used to until I became accustomed to it and then I appreciated the way the author leaves things for you to read into (literally to read into!).  I liked the way that this is thought provoking – are the conquerors really bad?  How far will one person go in order to achieve their own desires?  When does a person cross the line and become as bad if not worse than those they’re rising against.

I may have had a little dip in the middle of this book but I think the ending totally redeemed it for me.  I look forward very much to finding out where the story takes us next.

I received a copy of this from the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.


11 Responses to “The Traitor (Baru Cormorant) by Seth Dickinson”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I’m looking forward to this, and will be reading it soon. I was a little nervous when you told me you had your reservations, but I suppose that was the dip in the middle you talked about. I’m excited now to see what it is about the ending that redeemed the book for you, it must have been great!

    • lynnsbooks

      Yeah. I enjoyed the start which is when you’re looking back at Baru’s earlier years and finding out about her life and family. I flagged a bit when she moved islands. It felt for me like the story just really dipped at that point. Probably because it was more political with lots of under currents and I found it difficult to concentrate somehow. I also had to get used to the writing style which was almost like, how to describe it, lyrical. I must admit that I really started to enjoy the authors style. It has a lot of scope for you to interpret or read into which I enjoyed. Like he leads you so far and then you’re on your own and you can either wander further or set up camp where you are. The last third of the book was the real winner for me. I was reading with just awful suspense and I really hadn’t anticipated the full outcome. It promises to be a great second book now. So. The middle part brought it to a four star read for me. I almost considered at that point not finishing so I’m really glad that I pressed on.

  2. proxyfish

    Great review! But that is one hell of a creepy cover…

    • lynnsbooks

      I’m not sure what it says about me but I kind of like that cover – that being said it is creepy and I’m not sure why because the book isn’t intended to be creepy at all.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    OK, why have I not looked closer at this book?? It sounds like something I’d love

    • lynnsbooks

      I actually think you would like it – it’s very thought provoking. Absolutely nothing like A Just City in terms of story but very much like it in terms of it will make you think.
      Lynn 😀

  4. thecurioussffreader

    I also received a copy of this book from Netgalley and I just can’t wait to read it ! I usually really enjoy political intrigues and this sounds right up my alley 😉 Also, this cover is amazing, I don’t particularly like the UK one but this one, wow. Great review as always ! 🙂

  5. Fantasy Review: ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ by Seth Dickinson | Fantasy Review Barn

    […] Opinions: Little Red Reviewer, Amal El-Mohtar, Lynn’s Book Blog, Fantasy Literature, Book Pushers, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue […]

  6. Grace

    Very excited to read this one! I’m a fan of books that will make me think about them for days or weeks after I’ve read them.

  7. Fantasy Review: ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ by Seth Dickinson | Fantasy Review Barn

    […] Opinions: Little Red Reviewer, Amal El-Mohtar, Lynn’s Book Blog, Fantasy Literature, Book Pushers, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue […]

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