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The Traitor Baru Cormorant Hardcover – September 15, 2015
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“A fascinating tale of political intrigue and national unrest.” – The Washington Post
“Literally breathtaking….Baru Cormorant as a character is magnificent. I found it impossible not to root for her even amid horrors of her making, to grieve with her and for her at various points, to clench my fists in her defense and in desperate need for her to stay whole. There is so much to admire and so much to mourn throughout the building tragedy of this novel….A crucial, necessary book ― a book that looks unflinchingly into the self-replicating virus of empire, asks the hardest questions, and dares to answer them.” – NPR.org
“Dickinson's dense, chewy, deftly orchestrated narrative cleverly exploits fiat money and debt as tools of statecraft…. A highly impressive debut that engages intellectually.” – Kirkus Reviews
“This is an accomplished debut, with a heroine whose motives are murky, seemingly even to herself. The twists and turns our unreliable narrator takes as she pushes the Aurdwynn nobles to rebel reveal her goals yet also expose her loneliness. We’ve only seen a fraction of the world of the Masquerade and a glimpse of Baru’s plans, setting the stage for a compelling series.―Library Journal, starred review
“Dickinson’s debut, the start of a trilogy set in an impressively well-crafted fantasy world, is assured and impressive….Readers will share every one of Baru’s strong, suppressed emotions. Dickinson’s worldbuilding is ambitious and his language deviously subtle; both are seductive in their complexity. He combines social engineering, economic trickery, and coldhearted pseudoscientific theories to weave a compelling, utterly surprising narrative that keeps readers guessing until the end.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Smart. Brutal. Gut-wrenching. You'll be captivated from the very first page. Dickinson is a sly, masterful writer who pulls no punches. Get ready to have your heart ripped out through your throat. Highly recommended.” ―Kameron Hurley, author of The Mirror Empire
“Fascinating characters, a world imagined with wonderful depth, and storytelling that succeeds on both an epic and a powerfully intimate scale. This is really something special.” ―Sunny Moraine, co-author of Line and Orbit
“A beautiful, perfectly formed crystal of a novel borne out of a tight plot mated with elegant language.” ―John Chu, Hugo Award-winning author of ‘The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere"
“Skillfully combines intrigue, action, and philosophical musings to create a suspenseful and deeply satisfying read. An intelligent and accomplished first novel reminiscent of Le Guin in its reflections on imperialism, colonialism, and the attractions and corruptions of power.” ―Una McCormack, New York Times bestselling author of The Crimson Shadow
“Brutal, relentless and with the heartbreaking beauty of the best tragedies. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a haunting book that asks hard questions about revolution, change, and what it means to keep faith.” ―Aliette de Bodard, Nebula Award-winning author of “The Waiting Stars”
“Dickinson has written a poet's Dune, a brutal tale of empire, rebellion, fealty, and high finance that moves like a rocket and burns twice as hot. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a mic drop for epic fantasy.” ―Max Gladstone, author of the Craft Sequence
“An extraordinary debut--powerful, complex, and passionate. I was blown away by it.” ―Kij Johnson, Hugo Award-winning author of "The Man Who Bridged the Mist"
“Amazing and inventive.” ―Tobias Buckell, New York Times bestselling author of the Xenowealth series
“Stunning! There are moments that take my breath away.” ―Ellen Kushner, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Thomas the Rhymer
“Visceral and unflinching, The Traitor Baru Cormorant employs a rich palate of cultures to explore brutal moral complexities. Lightning strikes when those elements collide, setting off the bitter internal conflict of a narrator with vast, irreconcilable ambitions. With this debut, Seth Dickinson declares himself as a novelist with power and acuity.” ―Rachel Swirsky, Nebula Award-winning author of “The Lady Who Plucked Red Flowers Beneath the Queen’s Window”
“Beautiful and brutal. This is unflinching fantasy.” ―Chuck Wendig, author of Blackbirds
About the Author
SETH DICKINSON's short fiction has appeared in Analog, Asimov's, Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Strange Horizons, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others. He is an instructor at the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers, winner of the 2011 Dell Magazines Award, and a lapsed student of social neuroscience. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is his first novel.
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...well. It's going to take me a while to recover.
First off, I loved the steely distance in Baru's narration -- that's a tough thing to maintain over the course of a book, and Dickinson doesn't falter. Every ounce of mercy is calculated and restrained by Baru's judgment, even her response to Duchess Tain Hu (who is utterly fantastic; I spent most of the book hoping she would come rescue me).
Aurdwynn, the country which Baru must financially manage, is a chaotic mixture of rebellion and tension between its many dukes -- but somehow, through the force of her will and her need for vengeance (and not just vengeance, but total obliteration) against those who took over her home, Baru manages. She manages it so well she ends up leader of a rebellion, and a would-be queen.
...but nothing is simple, and everything hurts. Even Baru's driving pain -- losing her home, and one of her fathers, the loss of a whole culture -- only escapes her armor on rare occasions, but it's all the more poignant when it does.
I kept hoping, through the last fifty pages, that Dickinson wouldn't go there -- but it would have cheated the story, and Baru's character growth, if she hadn't faced down the last test. And now no one owns her, no one has their hooks in her, and she's a power behind the Throne.
The Masquerade is in very, very deep trouble.
I'm eager to see what comes next -- you know, after I dry my tears, because those last fifty pages make Room 101 seem like a spa day, especially because Baru does all of it willingly, in pursuit of her goal --- there are so many tantalizing hints of what will come next (what's beyond the sea?? It's qunari. I know it's qunari), but I know the next book will gut me when it arrives.
I had to put this book several times just to process everything that was going on. If you're looking for a relaxing read then this is not the book for you. But if you want an intricate plot that is always twisting and turning then you should pick this one up.
The characters are also very complex. This is a book that is filled with hard choices, wrong choices and very few choices that seem right. Which for me always makes a book interesting.
Overall it was a fun if stressful ride and hope to read more soon
6/5 Stars. Can I do that? I don't care. It's done.
This is not your average fantasy novel. The battles are few and far between. There is no magic. There are no creatures fantastic. I would argue that it is less removed from Netflix's House of Cards than it is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. It is better for it's distance from the tropes of fantasy.
Let's talk about the writing, eh? It is absolutely magnificent. This Dickinson fellow can write. There is not a wasted word. Every sentence is important. Every sentence is intelligent:
"Baru loved her mother and her fathers dearly, but she loved to know things just a small measure more, and she had recently discovered cunning."
Baru Cormorant. What a beautiful name. Quite possibly my favorite in all of fantasy. Named for the seabirds in the sky with which she learned math by taking census of as she sat on the black sand beach of her home, Taranoke.
She does not remain a child long, in the sense that she grows up awfully fast due to circumstance and the fact that her childhood lasts but a few chapters.
If I had to make a single complaint about this book it would be that I would have loved to see far more of The Child Baru Cormorant. But wanting more is hardly a worthy complaint of a book that is nearly flawless.
It isn't long before she has plotted her way into the upper ranks of The Empire of Masks who invaded her childhood home, through sheer cunning and savantry.
She is assigned to Aurdwynn as Imperial Accountant. Aurdwynn is a foreign land on the brink of an uprising. Accountant may not, at first glance, seem a very powerful position. That first glance would be a deception.
Intrigue! There is bounds of it.
Aurdwynn is a land ripe with fruits for Empire to pluck. Seditious Dukes who are rival to each other, and Empire, form complex alliances via trade, marriage and promise. This is a book that doesn't care to hold your attention with magic and dragons, but with words spoken between very politically powerful men and woman, rife with subtle insinuations and threats.
Why use the sword when you can reach your goal via manipulation on a grand scale?
The Empire of Masks, or, The Masquerade, is quite a feat of imagination. Dickinson does an extremely good job of making them seem all powerful and near impossible to defeat.
This is a masterclass in fantasy, despite being a debut. Wholly impressive. There was not a single moment I was not completely engaged.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant may not be for those who are looking for traditional fantasy, but it is for anyone looking for superb fantasy.
I will not spoil anything, for to do that would be to rob you of more than I can say. I will say this:
There are events in this novel that dashed me on the rocks with their beauty, genius and tragedy. Join me, if you will, in this gutted place, this awful place, this beautiful place. Bring some snacks, because if you are anything like me you will be here for a long while.
Look for the sequel sometime in the coming years, 'The Monster Baru Cormorant', I know I will be waiting with bated breath.