Monday, February 26, 2018

The Traitor Baru Cormorant Book Review

by The Wanderer

Author: Seth Dickinson

Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Hard Fantasy
Series: Masquerade Book One
Pages: 400

As a savant with calculations and numbers, Baru Cormorant's only wish is to rise through the ranks of the powerful Empire of Masks to save her childhood home, Taranoke, from being completed assimilated. Her first test is as Imperial Accountant to Aurdwynn, one of the Masquerade's most profitable provinces and also one of it's most dangerous. She must navigate treachery and violence and still be willing to pay the price if she is to save her home.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant is mostly a political thriller but it also has a healthy dose of fantasy related warfare, drama, revenge, and of course moral conundrums mixed in as well. Baru is a young woman who believes in a noble cause, saving her home. And by rising high in the Empire occupying her home, she hopes to bring down the monster from within. It's a goal that Dickinson get's the reader behind early as the Masquerade quickly shows an intolerance towards homosexuality and ruthlessness for gentrifying and assimilating all the lands they occupy. 

An empire with questionable values doesn't necessarily contain people that are entirely evil. And as Baru learns, she might even like a lot of the people that do work with or for the Masquerade. And here's where lying to people you sympathize with about your true intentions becomes great dramatization for a moral clusterfuck. Even as Baru makes questionable decision after questionable decision, I still find myself rooting for her.

A big part of this might be because she reminds me of another number-crunching alcoholic, Cithrin bel Sarcour, from Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin. If that series focused exclusively on Cithrin, I imagine a lot of the drama would look similar to what's presented here. And seeing as Cithrin was my favorite part of that series, I was able to quickly jump on the Baru train. 

Being in a dangerous place like Aurdwynn, Baru finds she has many enemies within, and she also finds the Masquerade is constantly watching her. I almost get a 1984 vibe from the worldbuilding. There seems to be constant surveillance, or at least a paranoia of being watched by a very powerful government. The shadowy nature behind the question who's ruling the Masquerade definitely reminds me of the debate about whether Big Brother was real or not.

And while I was thinking about 1984 a lot while I was reading, by the time I finished, I found myself comparing Baru Cormorant to the plot of The Godfather. While there aren't mobsters shooting at each other with machine guns, or a man beating another man with a shoe, I can't help but see a little Michael Corleone in Baru. And then of course there is the ending. I did the same thing after I finished The Traitor Baru Cormorant as I did finishing The Godfather for the first time ... Locked myself in my room and stared at a wall for a half hour.

Score: 10

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