Ohhhhh, this was a goodun. I’d looked forward to it because it had some great pre-release buzz from people whose opinions I respect. The premise: a clever bureaucrat/accountant infiltrates the massive organisation which crushed her homeland and TAKES THEM DOWN THROUGH AUDITING. Maybe because I trained as an accountant and know and love several of them, but by god, who wouldn’t want to read that. I’m not even joking. I mean, it’s a long-game revenge novel (one of my favourite stories) based on subtlety, and cleverness, but also numbers and records! Fantasy does not, largely, recognise bureaucracy, let alone make it the main structure for a story and the source of mystery, suspense, conflict and tension, so the sheer freshness of this premise made me excited to read it.
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.