Fantasy Review: ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ by Seth Dickinson

The Traitor Baru CormorantAnd I was having such luck with early hyped debuts lately.

It would be easy to get caught up in The Traitor Baru Cormorant, in many ways it is a fine debut that shows an author with a lot of promise. Certainly there is ambition in this book; nothing about it looks like an author taking the easy way down any path. And maybe that is the problem I had here. It may be too ambitious for its page count. It starts down one path, darts to another, and ends with a complete left turn that is of a less twist ending and more of a ‘fuck you’ for following along to this point. King Author getting arrested at the end of Monty Python and the Holy Grail is more sane than the ending of this one.

Here is a book that originally hooked me. A young girl watches as a new trading partner solidifies its grasp on her nation of birth. It is quickly apparent that we will be watching a youth grow up in a land of transition; cultural assimilation through technology and education. And with that an accelerated path of forced acceptance of the ‘Masquerade’s cultural values.   Sadly this is false hook, Baru’s education is given only a quick run before she is shown graduating and moving on to her first assignment as a supposedly assimilated new citizen. The old culture is a distant memory and an allusion; ignore it because it will never be important again. It is a false thread, a motivation that the reader isn’t allowed to connect too. From here on out we watch as Baru is left with the impossible task of stopping a rebellion in a land that is refusing to be dominated…with only scant knowledge of the land but in full control of the economic situation.

There is a KJ Parker vibe going on that I think many will dig; it certainly allowed me to forgive some of the faults. This is a book that revels in the minutia and has a savant digging through all those little details. Baru is interesting enough with her conflicting emotions, obvious mistakes and bare knuckle comebacks from said mistakes. Her likability waxes and wanes by design; she appears to be driven by something noble but her tactics are downright ruthless even early on. Do not doubt the darkness of themes; even in the early going it is clear the ‘Masquerade’ won’t tolerate customs they don’t like and some bad things are coming for Baru’s people.

Ultimately what turned me off in this were way too many leaps of faith required to accept the plot. This starts very early on with Baru rolling the dice and picking just the right person to befriend for what proves to be a long term relationship. This trend picks up when the nitty gritty of the scheming begins in her job as a royal accountant; almost every move seemed less calculated by logic and more by ‘look at this hand while I shift the cards.’ It goes without saying that your mileage may vary when it comes to plot leaps but credibility was lost with me almost immediately.

No, scratch that last paragraph. Your mileage probably won’t vary. This story is needlessly complex to the point of absurdity and it all becomes even harder to swallow as my mind starts realizing just how some allies were moved out of the way in pursuit of a final outcome that I have decided is best described as laughable.

This is a book that almost fooled me with its slick style. I wanted to like a book that opens with girl happy in a family quite unlike any I have seen on page. I love the thought of a savant with a grudge. Following the little details was fun and it wasn’t until I stepped back that I realized they were fooling me into thinking said little details actually matter in some way.

This is a book that I am sure will get some split reactions. Early reviews I read have mostly been positive but I rarely stand alone when I start seeing issues (Oh look, mixed reviews linked down below). And I had such high hopes.

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Other Opinions: Little Red Reviewer, Amal El-Mohtar, Lynn’s Book Blog, Fantasy Literature, Book Pushers, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

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