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Book (P)review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru Cormorant

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.

I’ve been hearing about this book all year. Folks I respect have praised, and in some cases blurbed, it while others have pointed out some sincerely problematic issues raised by the setting and characterization. All of that pretty much guaranteed I’d read it.

It comes out next week. So far, I’ve only gotten my hands on a preview including the first nine chapters. If Kindle location numbers are a decent gauge, then that’s close to half the book. It took less than a day.

The Traitor Baru Cormorant hooks the reader with the familiar gifted child trope and then casts it in turmoil. We meet the protagonist at the beginning of the end of her culture and follow her into a facsimile of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Her experiences there are condensed , fragmented, and shrouded. Moments in time providing brief glimpses of the world inside and outside the school walls.

I might have liked to see more of both, but the overall effect is of one caught up in a relentless machine. The Empire of Masks is an efficient beast. Message received.

Dickinson’s prose is fast and dense. There are moments when he seems to merge the similes of Catherine Valente with the technical specificity of Neal Stephenson. And, mind you, makes it work.

I’m invested in Baru Cormorant. I’m eager to know what happens. I despair of whom she betrays.

Recommended for fans of City of Stairs, Before They are Hanged, and Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

Check out chapters one and two at Tor.com.

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