In Seth Dickinson's highly anticipated debut The Traitor Baru Cormorant, a richly imagined geopolitical fantasy, a young woman from a conquered people tries to transform an empire. Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people - even her soul.
When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, overwrites her culture, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her fathers, Baru vows to swallow her hate, join the empire's civil service, and claw her way high enough to set her people free. Sent as an imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn, another conquered country, Baru discovers it's on the brink of rebellion. Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious dukes, Baru may be able to use her position to help. As she pursues a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with freedom as the prize.
But the cost of winning the long game of saving her people may be far greater than Baru imagines.
©2015 Seth Dickinson (P)2015 Macmillan Audio
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"A triumph of a debut!"
A terribly cunning display of the untrustworthy narrator (it's in the title, after all!) Baru is an incredibly engaging protagonist, and this fantastical political thriller keeps you guessing about loyalties, love, and what drives a person to ultimate treachery. This narrative weaves a spectacular warning to the readers: of social injustice, imperialism and the profound danger and power that comes from being truly alone in your mind. Machiavellian machinations in a spectacular feat of world building. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
"Fantastic story, robotic narrator"
Really enjoyed the story but the narrator sounds like a computer program and offers very little variance between character voices.
"Read for detail explainations, skip otherwise"
This is a hard one to recommend as it really depends on your taste. Especially since it's a long book, make sure you know what your getting into before starting.
As a child Baru Cormorant witness the Empire of Masks conquer her homeland. Not through war but with economics, trade policies and cultural assimilation. Baru vows to tear down this empire from the inside by pretending to be loyal to gain power. Will Baru be able to avoid corruption that comes with power, can she stand by and not only watch, but be the instrument of the empire in conquering another culture, or join their rebellion at the cost of her revenge. Will her outlawed secret desires be discovered?
It reads like a text book on colonialism. It covers in extreme details everything from economics, taxes & trade policies, cultural assimilation, diplomacy, naval & land battles, and family lineage. Often times it feels like the narrative is secondary to allow the author to show us the vast world his has created.
Personally, while I found most of the technical details interesting, and presented with purpose, it started to bog me down and become tiring the last third or quarter. I really liked the ending, I can't say anything about it without spoiling it but it reminded me of a classic story whose ending I also really liked. I can't say which classic without spoiling.
Read if you're REALLY into world building, how things work behind the scenes in terms of politics, bureaucracy and economics. If you read all the in game lore you can find in video games, then give this a read.
"Great story, terrible reader"
This is an incredibly incentive and gripping story. The audio book narrator, however, seems not to have been familiar with the English words "duchy" and "elided," which was frustrating and distracting.
"All the charm of a Nazi collaborater"
This is the tale of a collaborator, told from her point of view. It tracks her journey throughout her "accomplishments" and betrayals in service of a political system which combines a Nazi like racial philosophy with a sexual one. In the end she becomes part of the system she continuously claims she is trying to subvert from within while becoming more like their ideal than them. It is only a few times that she shows any hint of humanity and her weaknesses are clearly paper tigers to be knocked over. Needless to say it becomes both highly predictable and unrealistic, which means it can only be a shadow of great works like 1984. At the end the author tries once again to excuse her loyalty to party over friends or family, even to ordering their death, but it rings hollow. Despite the hype, I suggest you skip this one.
"Blame the narrator?"
I read the first pages of this novel before I decided to buy the audiobook an I was really looking forward to listening to it. But Christine Marshall really took all joy out of listening. All I could think when I was listening was why she was in such a hurry. I actually couldn't finish the novel because of the bad narration. This is some of the worst case of a narrator massacring a novel.
"Libertarian fan fiction"
The Evil Empire is coming to kill all the gays! And their weapon is...fiat currency! Fortunately, our hero, armed with gold (the one true money) is here to infiltrate their evil statist bureaucracy and bring them down!
OK, this is a caricature, but the number of libertarian tropes in this book made me laugh. I listened to it for a book club, and the main question people asked was "Is this fantasy?". I answered "Yeah...the economics is the magic."
That's far from my only criticism, though. The protagonist's motivations are never really explored in depth. We know she's out for revenge for the death of her father and the conquest of her hometown, but that hometown culture just isn't developed very thoroughly. We never get that warm, homey feeling of pre-colonial society the way we would in, say, an Ursula LeGuin book. Instead, Baru seems to be making a bunch of dire decisions and dreadful acts of will for...what? We never really know.
So I'd say this is a fun book, but ultimately unsatisfying.
"Worth the price"
as a good, but not great, read. The premise of the book is how a "good" person becomes evil as she works to avenge a real wrong done to her homeland by the empire. Well written with many twists (no spoiler here) it demonstrates how the "ends justify the means" approach destroys lives and damages the humanity of a person pursuing such a path.
A "low magic" and realistic setting (that allows the willing suspension of disbelief) the Traitor Baru Cormorant is a solid addition to the low fantasy genre that does not throw up one fantasy trope after another I have grown use to encountering but ploughs new ground. Yet I found I never really cared about her family and really about her, I am not sure why that is, but I suspect it is due to the author's focus on events and keeping Baru's inner thoughts hidden (because if he did not he would blow up the surprise ending). Having said that the story and writing were good enough (or great enough) to maintain my interest in the book and the coming sequel.
This was on some list of best SF from last year. Why? Not only is it more of an extremely watered down fantasy world, but up to the half way point if there was anything SF oriented (perhaps some vague societal genetic reproductive restrictions and control) I missed it; and to top it off, little or nothing of interest had nor was happening. Bored and I didn't care about anyone or anything in it. There are a lot of characters with little to differentiate them in your mind so it all blends together. Surely by the halfway point of any novel you should be able to keep some characters straight in your mind, have an inkling of interactions of importance and implications for future of the story, and something, something of interest should have happened. A friend was listening too and he lost interest. Told him I was pulling the plug on it and he didn't care to finish it either. Maybe all the excitement is in last half, but I don't care, not worth my time when there are so many good things to get to. Will return it.
"A Dream worth having "
Seth Dickinson grabs your heart and enlightens your mind with language, wonder, & intrigue.
With expert construction, Dickinson will drag you deep into a web of loyalties all guided by one island girl.
The tale of Baru is something that everyone needs to hear to truly understand how far will you go for what you want.
"Listen hard to the sample before you buy"
The performance is awful. Actually, it's beyond awful. The narrator reads the entire book at the same plodding pace with no intonation, inflection or emotion. When there's no personal pronoun in the text, you'll have no idea if spoken text is by a man or a woman, let alone who they are. Improper annunciation left me really struggling with the fantasy-style names of people and places, many of which are very similar. Listen to the audio sample and decide if you can live with 14 hours of it.
The production isn't great either for not only are there some edit mid-sentence which are completely obvious, there are even a couple of bad splices causing a bit of a stutter.
I found it a painful listen which totally ruined the book for me.
"Best of the year"
The end,even though i worked it out it still had an impact.
On of the best novels of the year
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