Book: The Traitor Baru Cormorant
Series: The Masquerade, #1
Author: Seth Dickinson
Genre: Fantasy – geopolitical
My rating: ★★★★★
The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman’s mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.
Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.
The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.
In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.
But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.
First and foremost, I want to thank Melanie for sending me this copy of The Traitor Baru Cormorant for my birthday! And it was perfect timing, because this August Melanie hosted her own birthday buddy read. Several people joined in via twitter using the hashtag #meltotheany to discuss this book over the course of a week! I always love group buddy reads and am so thankful I got to participate with all my fellow bookworms.
This book was such a roller coaster and honestly? I had no idea what to expect going into it. And quite early on we learn that Baru is an accountant for an empire… and I’m like, wait. An accountant? I’m going to read about an accountant whose power lies solely on wielding… money? Well, yes. That’s exactly how this book plays out and, ya’ll, it was the most intriguing, powerful, brutal, and beautiful book I’ve ever read.
Baru grew up on Taranoke with her mother and two fathers. But soon the Masquerade invade her home and she’s taken away to a school where she must completely re-learn new “rules”. Baru is forced to learn that polygamy is wrong, being homosexual is “unhygienic”, and that the history and culture she’s ever known is destroyed. As we watch Baru grow, we see her bury her true self for fear of being criminalized. Seeking revenge for the mistreatment of her people and her land, Baru joins the Masquerade by wielding the most powerful tool: coin.
As Baru moves up the ranks, we are presented with so much political intrigue: colonialism, economic strategies, war, treason, and the fall of empires. My favorite character was Tain Hu, the Duchess of Aurdwynn. She is smart and fierce and one of the best political players on Baru’s board. Tain Hu and Baru have obvious feelings for each other, but it all has to be ignored or else they’d be punished. And, wow. their relationship was easily one of my favorites but also broke my heart.
This book is so quiet but important, and it shows you the ugly side of colonialism: genocide, culture erasure, war, and torture. There are also very dark themes and trigger warnings such as mutilation, homophobia, sexism, racism, abuse, plagues, and executions (among many other things that are presented in graphic war scenes.)
And since this is a quiet book, I felt like the pacing got a bit slow at times (which almost made me remove a star.) There is a lot of geopolitical and economic speak for me, and a lot of it went over my head. It felt like I was getting an ECON 101 lesson sometimes. So, because of those reasons, this book may not be for you. But the writing is absolutely superb and the lies and twists are 100%.