The Traitor Baru Cormorant Hardcover – 15 September 2015
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- ISBN-10 : 0765380722
- Hardcover : 400 pages
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765380722
- Dimensions : 16.38 x 3.47 x 23.95 cm
- Publisher : Tor Books (15 September 2015)
- Language: : English
- Customer Reviews:
"A fascinating tale of political intrigue and national unrest." - The Washington Post
"Literally breathtaking....Baru Cormorant as a character is magnificent. I found it impossible not to root for her even amid horrors of her making, to grieve with her and for her at various points, to clench my fists in her defense and in desperate need for her to stay whole. There is so much to admire and so much to mourn throughout the building tragedy of this novel....A crucial, necessary book -- a book that looks unflinchingly into the self-replicating virus of empire, asks the hardest questions, and dares to answer them." - NPR.org
"Dickinson's dense, chewy, deftly orchestrated narrative cleverly exploits fiat money and debt as tools of statecraft.... A highly impressive debut that engages intellectually." - Kirkus Reviews
"This is an accomplished debut, with a heroine whose motives are murky, seemingly even to herself. The twists and turns our unreliable narrator takes as she pushes the Aurdwynn nobles to rebel reveal her goals yet also expose her loneliness. We've only seen a fraction of the world of the Masquerade and a glimpse of Baru's plans, setting the stage for a compelling series.--Library Journal, starred review
"Dickinson's debut, the start of a trilogy set in an impressively well-crafted fantasy world, is assured and impressive....Readers will share every one of Baru's strong, suppressed emotions. Dickinson's worldbuilding is ambitious and his language deviously subtle; both are seductive in their complexity. He combines social engineering, economic trickery, and coldhearted pseudoscientific theories to weave a compelling, utterly surprising narrative that keeps readers guessing until the end." -Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Smart. Brutal. Gut-wrenching. You'll be captivated from the very first page. Dickinson is a sly, masterful writer who pulls no punches. Get ready to have your heart ripped out through your throat. Highly recommended." --Kameron Hurley, author of The Mirror Empire
"Fascinating characters, a world imagined with wonderful depth, and storytelling that succeeds on both an epic and a powerfully intimate scale. This is really something special." --Sunny Moraine, co-author of Line and Orbit
"A beautiful, perfectly formed crystal of a novel borne out of a tight plot mated with elegant language." --John Chu, Hugo Award-winning author of 'The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"
"Skillfully combines intrigue, action, and philosophical musings to create a suspenseful and deeply satisfying read. An intelligent and accomplished first novel reminiscent of Le Guin in its reflections on imperialism, colonialism, and the attractions and corruptions of power." --Una McCormack, New York Times bestselling author of The Crimson Shadow
"Brutal, relentless and with the heartbreaking beauty of the best tragedies. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a haunting book that asks hard questions about revolution, change, and what it means to keep faith." --Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of "The Waiting Stars"
"Dickinson has written a poet's Dune, a brutal tale of empire, rebellion, fealty, and high finance that moves like a rocket and burns twice as hot. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a mic drop for epic fantasy." --Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence
"An extraordinary debut--powerful, complex, and passionate. I was blown away by it." --Kij Johnson, Hugo Award-winning author of "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"
"Amazing and inventive." --Tobias Buckell, New York Times bestselling author of the Xenowealth series
"Stunning! There are moments that take my breath away." --Ellen Kushner, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Thomas the Rhymer
"Visceral and unflinching, The Traitor Baru Cormorant employs a rich palate of cultures to explore brutal moral complexities. Lightning strikes when those elements collide, setting off the bitter internal conflict of a narrator with vast, irreconcilable ambitions. With this debut, Seth Dickinson declares himself as a novelist with power and acuity." --Rachel Swirsky, Nebula Award-winning author of "The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen's Window"
"Beautiful and brutal. This is unflinching fantasy." --Chuck Wendig, author of Blackbirds
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I did love this book, but not for the reasons I thought I would. Revenge plots tend to have a dark backstory but the actual story usually has some fun, some hijinks, and ultimately positive resolution. Not necessarily lighthearted, but at least imbued with a kind of heisty satisfaction. Baru is not this story. It is clever, definitely, and surprising, but you should be prepared for it to also be really, really, gut-wrenching. It’s beautifully written, the setting is brilliant (god, the setting is SO different and fresh for fantasy!), the characters – and particularly their relationships – are deeply nuanced, but this is a solar plexus punch of a book that follows no comfortable, familiar formula. One of the best SFF I’d read in ages, and far and away the most impressive debut.
Top reviews from other countries
Firstly, don't read this if you're not comfortable with LGBT and polyamorous characters. As my title makes clear, the heroine is gay, as are numerous other characters, and this is central to the plot.
Secondly, step away if you have little knowledge of or interest in basic issues of politics and economics. More than most fantasy novels, this one uses things like trade wars, deliberate devaluation of currency and forensic accounting to drive the plot forward - something which you might find fascinating and clever, or might find confusing and dull.
Thirdly, if you like happy endings or uncomplicated heroines, don't go anywhere near this.
Luckily, I like a bit of diversity, I'm interested in politics, and I love anti-hero(ines), villain protagonists and dark plots. And as a civil servant myself, I enjoyed reading something with such an unusual choice of protagonist.
On the political side, there was lots of debate about the rights and wrongs of empires that take away colonists' culture but give them medicine and wealth, and about the morality of doing bad things for good purposes. It was pretty clear that the author had a broadly liberal bent, but this still felt like an interesting discussion, not a polemic.
Overall therefore, I found this an unusual and enjoyable read that engaged both my imagination and my brain. On the negative side, I didn't hugely engage with any of the characters or feel super-invested in the outcomes, and though it was enjoyably slowburn in places, in others, it felt a bit too stretched out. I also guessed the key twist at a relatively early stage.
If this sounds like something that would appeal to you at all, I'd highly recommend that you give it a try. I suspect it's one of those books people will love or hate. I was definitely closer to the former category and would definitely read any sequel, though that doesn't mean I found it a perfect read.
Because I couldn't emotionally connect with Baru. Her character remained aloof throughout all of the politics and scheming.
However, I enjoy smart characters who don't depend on physical strength to achieve their goals and instead use their wits and intelligence, and I love reading about politics. What stood out to me throughout the book is the way Dickinson deals with the theme of colonialism.
The prose flows nicely, and I don’t think the book suffers from any pacing issues, despite, perhaps, a rather boring middle, but I just could not connect with the characters.
Since the emotional connection was and remained missing, I simply did not care about the outcome of this book.
Since I'm in the minority, I'd recommend fantasy fans who like their politics check this one out.
The Traitor starts when Baru Cormorant is a girl, watching sails in the distance. She is aware that her parents are troubled: Empire is at their doorstep, and they fear their civilization and culture is about to be subsumed. Baru has mixed feelings: there is something exciting about these ships, these foreign traders, and their spectacle and overwhelming power. Soon, she is recruited into their special school, destined to become one of the first of her people to absorb the Empire's culture fully. Then, a small skirmish with a neighbouring tribe turns into all-out war as the Empire 'supports' their allies (her tribe) with an army and heavy-handed warfare (wiping out another tribe), and one of Baru's fathers dies. Her mother tells her foul play was at work: the Empire murdered him because he was in a family unit that was not monogamous. Some years later, the Empire's treatment of homosexuals becomes an urgent problem for Baru.
Baru Cormorant decides that the Empire is too big, too powerful to defeat by (her mother's dreams of) rebellion. She throws herself ever more deeply into her studies in order to rise to the very top and change the empire itself. The novel tells the story of her rise, her assignments, her betrayals...
The Traitor Baru Cormorant is not an epic fantasy novel in the traditional sense. No orcs, no dragons, no elves, no monsters, no magic. In fact, it is more akin to an alternative Earth, with alternative human cultures. Some names echo names on Earth: there are several cultures whose naming conventions appear to be Latin American, African, Polynesian, etc.
Baru Cormorant is not a traditional hero. She might leave her family behind, but she does not have a benevolent mentor. She has grand designs and dreams and wants to change the hostile world, but she does not do so through being a chosen one heading into battle on the back of a prophecy. You could argue that she is a chosen one, but she is chosen for her mind and her skill, called a savant. She is not chosen by her people or the good guys; she is chosen by the Empire, the adversary.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Baru does not pursue a path of heroism and binary good/bad, does not fight the empire from outside in futile rebellion. Instead, she uses realpolitik, manoeuvring the politics of power in a way that Tywin Lannister would be proud of. She acts utterly ruthless, even if she suffers internally.
Baru Cormorant is a striking, memorable hero. I don't recall ever coming across a character like this - hard, strong, a stone cold operator, willing to do terrible things in the short term in service to her longer term goals. Not since watching the documentary 'The Fog of War' have I come across an internalised personal conflict like that, and I struggle to think of any instance when such conflict occurred in books I've read. George R R MArtin's novels, for example, may be full of politics and battle and betrayal, full of power struggles, but in comparison with Baru Cormorant, no character or family comes close in complexity. Song of Ice and Fire has good guys and bad guys, well-intended roads to hell (Daenerys, John Snow) and degrees of badness (Jamie Lannister, Stannis Baratheon). Baru Cormorant is so much more complex because she does terrible things, knowing they are terrible, internalising her regret and guilt. She'd neither baddie nor hero.
There is a whole lot more to the novel, beyond complex characters. An ultra-conservative empire, obsessed with eugenics and family values / 'social hygiene' but technologically advanced and, at least at the level of middle management, meritocratic. It's improving people's living standards, quality of life, life expectancy (unless you fall foul of their moral barometer), spreading through trade and capitalism and banking... while local cultures of diversity, minority faiths, non-nuclear families and sexually liberal attitudes get absorbed and destroyed. The book has geopolitics that do not match or even closely mimic our own, but take different aspects and play around with them. Falcrest acts like modern America / China, with the social mores of Nazi Germany and Saudi Arabia. You can read it in a dozen different ways, but it's a chilling adversary to encounter in a novel.
Similarly, there is a lot in the book about the workings of power, the difference between the power people see and power as it really works. I cannot help feeling a chill at how insightful, intelligent and authentic this novel really is.
I will admit that it lost some momentum in the second half, but it makes up for that with an utterly relentless finale. Highly recommended if you're looking for a very smart, complex and entertaining read.
The Traitor is a tightly constructed, beautifully realised, heartrending story about colonialism, loyalty and (queer) love. It's filled with politics, war, intrigue, and somehow it makes accountancy exciting. It rocketed instantly into the list of my favourite books of all time, and one I can find an excuse to recommend to almost anyone.
Warning though: it will ruin you. When I finished it I had to hide my physical copy under a pile of clothes in my room because I couldn't look at the cover.
(PS for my fellow SJWs: If when considering this book you have any qualms whatsoever about someone who looks superficially white and male writing a book about colonialism with a diverse female-led cast, I can't speak for others but for me, the depictions of queerness and women leave nothing lacking.)