Well that was a difficult book to read, both from a technical point of view and an emotional.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant to give it its proper title (the shortening of the title for the UK market makes no sense) starts almost dreamlike as her small costal country is gradually being taken over by the Masquerade, a colonial power that conquers more by commerce than by war.
Spotted very young and flagged as a potential savant she is sent to special school in her native homeland but it’s run by the Masquerade and she is gradually indoctrinated to their viewpoints and goals. As she sees her homeland changing, she vows revenge and plans to destroy the Masquerade from within. As her first assignment she is sent to a land called Aurdwynn as its imperial accountant, where the land and the Dukes that rule it are always on the verge of rebellion.
The whole book is from Baru’s POV and it is a difficult one to like and get to know. You feel her but from the start I never really trusted her, she’s so smart but cold and ruthless and I even doubt even her own mind on events. She claims hatred and wants revenge on the Masquerade but after learning from them from such a young age, and being very eager to do so, you can’t help but wonder how much of what she claims is the truth and how much is ambition.
The dreamlike start seems deliberate as the text clears up and becomes more focused as she grows older and wiser. I struggled a lot with names and terminology in this book, pretty much throughout the whole read, it could have seriously done with a glossary or at least a cast of characters which gave you a brief explanation of who was who as I kept forgetting. I’m a major fantasy reader so I’m used to large sets of characters but something about the names here really threw me.
The Masquerade were suitably disturbing and believable. The correction facility was pretty horrendous and really showed how thorough the Masquerade is controlling its citizens. Their views on sexuality were horrible in addition to their ‘cures’ for all form of homosexuality. Then you have their eugenics programs which is just the icing on the cake. Though with all this, if you conform to their viewpoint, you can prosper and become well and rich in their empire which is why they are so successful.
I’m not going to go into too many details of Baru and her relationships with different characters in this book. Even though we only have her POV all the other characters are well drawn and believable. People say they were blindsided by certain events in this book but honestly I didn’t find that at all and it was not much of a surprise. Saying that, and even expecting what happened, it still got me and I am still thinking about it now. Poor Tain Hu, you deserved better.
It is a confusing book but it resonates and sticks with you, I am not going to jump into the next one straight away but it’s ordered and I’ll be definitely be reading it at some stage.
4 stars out of 5