The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I'm going to have to make a new shelf for the growing number of economi-punk titles that have been coming out. I can't believe how many of them there are, or why I get drawn so hard and fast into these kinds of tales. I can easily list one economist-protagonist for each of my fingers, and no one is more surprised than me that I'm digging it.
I'm digging it hard.
Can we have math geniuses make great heroes? Why yes, of course you can. SF has a very long history of doing just that. But how about Fantasy? Why yes, yes, indeed, it looks like crossovers are happening all over the place, and everyone is heartily enriched by the trend.
Take this novel, which grabbed me from the get go and didn't let go throughout its fantastically dark and emotional passage. Our heroine is a savant, hand-picked and groomed to be an elite tool of an empire that has good aspects as well as being quite ruthlessly evil, bringing progress and some of the most repressive social regimes that even a southern baptist hate group might blanche at. And yet, the Masquerade brings schools and medicine and stability, uniting so many disparate cultures, while eventually homogenizing them all at the same time. Baru Cormorant vows to free her home from within the bowels of the beast with the tools of the same empire she wants to escape.
Great set-up. It's obviously a tragedy from go. The growth and setbacks, the challenges and the successes and the failures get tightly woven together until we truly believe we've got the real measure of Baru. I really like her. I like her even through to the end of the novel. I may not approve or condone anything that happens at all. That doesn't really matter. There is evil and there is good in everything and everyone. Even the most atrocious of social norms become background to the overriding immediacy of what everyone is going through at the moment.
I wanted everyone to succeed so badly that I could taste it. I was holding three or four impossible things in my head at the same time, and I rejoiced in the grand tale that it was spinning. Yes. It was a novel about betrayal. But who's betrayal, and how many times will it occur? The question goes so deep and is spread so wide across the plains of the story that I was left in mute wonder.
I LOVE THIS NOVEL. It is so well-crafted. It is disturbing and full of purpose. It is full of meaning.
It remained such a grand and epic tale of love and striving and hope, with perfectly executed waves of storytelling, that I never once wanted to put this book down. The undercurrent was deep and swift and oh so nasty. I felt almost like I was in one of the great Shakespearian tragedies. It held me by the neck and forced me to watch on as so much of humanity was sacrificed for ever-increasing tiers of need and hope.
Economics? Try the underpinnings and execution of a revolution, instead, because that was the core action of the novel. The theme, on the other hand, is one that will reverberate long after I've read the pages.
To think this was a debut novel. Amazing.
OF course, there are other very disturbing and important topics I probably should bring up. Homophobia is institutionalized in a rather grotesque fashion, among other vile things, but what I was most impressed about was the author's unflinching courage to lay it bare like he did.
Baru Cormorant's deepest secret and hope was all wrapped up in her desire for other women, and this, more than anything else the Masquerade repressed, was the core of her own rebellion. She has to fight for the success of the people who would repress her. This is a very dark, very painful kind of story to tell. Being a traitor is all wrapped up in this idea just as much as breaking free of the empire or creating the honeypot that betrays everything and everyone one last time. The twisting of this knife really killed me.
This book has so many layers, but don't mistake me on this: it is one hell of a fantastic story on the surface, too. It was brilliant. :)
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