May 11 2019

The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade #1) by Seth Dickinson

Ngl, you’re either going to have to love economics or be okay with reading a lot about economics in order to enjoy this book.

It’s essentially the tale of a socially rigid imperialism that sweeps up native peoples and cultures and crushes them under the guise of advancement and, ugh, social hygiene. Baru Cormorant is a young girl on the island nation of Taranoke, living with her beloved huntress mother, smith father and warrior father, when the Masquerade, as the Imperial Republic is known, shows up to take over. As a bright child, Baru is taken to one of the Masquerade’s schools to be educated not only in the arts and sciences but also in the “correct” forms of thought and conduct. Upon her graduation, she is appointed as Imperial Accountant to the fractious land of Aurdwynn, a conglomeration of rival duchies under the administration of the Masquerade’s appointed Governor, the genial Cattlson, and Jurispotence, the zealot Xate Yawa.

Baru is disappointed by this posting: she had hoped to make her way to the capital in Faircrest, to worm her way into the machineries of conquest and somehow save her homeland from its assimilation into and further exploitation by the Masquerade. But she soon discovers that her position is not one without power, and that her many skills may soon come to play in affecting this unruly land. When an agent of the Masquerade’s Faceless Throne approaches her with an opportunity to get her life’s ambitions back on track, she sets in motion a rebellion that will change the very face of a land that will rise to call her queen.

This was a truly messed up book about infiltrating the enemy and learning how to be ruthless in pursuit of the greater good that really examines the bargains we all make as political entities. There are long, daunting passages on the economics of warfare, and uncomfortable looks at the benefits of empire versus the cruelty of the imperialist. This is a fantasy novel that looks past the broad strokes of history and into the bureaucratic details that culminate in victory: it’s a challenging read but ultimately one that is worthwhile.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure if I would like this book while I was reading it, but immediately upon finishing I went looking for the sequel. It’s a thoughtful book about morality and governance centered around a lesbian (or tribadist, as it’s called in the book, there never having been a Lesbos in this universe) savant who must wrap herself in layers and layers of denial to achieve her aims. It’s a damning critique of imperialism and the use of war as a means to an end, and a stunningly original take on your standard tale of fantasy rebellion.

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