This book is a rollar coaster of a ride and not in a good way. This book went from something I wasn’t feeling, to something I liked, to something I hated, to something I quit, to something I gave another shot, and finally to something I disliked.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant is a fantasy novel that likes to focus on the big picture. It is a book about a woman that is in charge and not a coming of age story. Because of this, we get a very bird’s eye view on the tactics that Baru uses to gain power. This is an extremely tactical heavy book that focuses on the grand strategy of the economy and the alliances between Duchys. The explanations and descriptions of large scale conflicts, that would take many chapters in other books, are paired down to a few pages in this book. This is considered a geopolitical fantasy book.
Baru is the main accountant of an entire continent and she knows that money rules all. Baru’s past is a broken past, where her father was killed for being with her other father, and her homeland’s culture was replaced by a new sterile empire that doesn’t accept same sex relationships. Baru, being gay herself and angry that her father was killed for his relationship with her other father, decides to try to bring down the The Empire of Masks from within, so she takes the accountant job. Baru must use her intelligence to navigate the landscape of the Aurdwynn continent that has many small rulers that own their own land. Using her position as the main accountant, she seizes power, and tries to reshape Aurdwynn how she sees fit.
Basically, imagine if the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve was sent to Afghanistan to try to fix Afghanistan’s many faction issues by using economic principals.
There are some great ideas in this book. I absolutely love the idea of conquest by culture instead of weapons. I found this idea to be refreshing in the fantasy market. I also liked the basic premise of this story quite a bit, a girl wanting to work within the empire she hates, to become powerful enough to bring it down. I also really liked the tactics she used as far as economical strategies to seize power. I found the struggle of her being a gay woman, of color, and of a civilization that is looked down upon, to be fascinating, because the empire she is trying to gain power in hates her type of people. Lastly, I like that Baru was an intelligent character that showed she was intelligent by thinking up ingenious strategies and tactics.
The bottom line is that I just didn’t care for this book much though. My first main issue is that these type of books, that feature a top down approach to storytelling, just aren’t relatable to me. When the main character is someone that starts the book in a high position of power(O.K 50 pages in but still) there just isn’t much of a struggle for me to connect to. Sure, her background is bad, but it is told in such a rushed way, that I couldn’t feel any empathy towards Baru. In fact, there were maybe 2 scenes in the entire book that I felt any kind of emotion towards Baru.
The book feels like the wikipedia article of a longer book series. There are so many rulers, places, and cultural names thrown at the reader, but with very little substance to actually hang these names in your memory. It is only giving you this large overview, seen through the eyes of Baru, but most of the time I felt like I was treading water keeping up with who is who. I never really got a chance to get comfortable with these characters and make mental references of their character in my mind. I wanted more scenes that explored who Baru was underneath her mask. The private scenes between Baru and Tain Hu(her closest ally and love interest) were great, but they were just so few.
I just did not like the way this book was written. My biggest issue was the lack of describing who was talking in conversations. So we get thrown two dozen names within about 10 pages, and we get no mental reference of an interesting scene involving these characters, so when we finally do have a scene with Baru talking to ruler 1 out of 12, the author decides to rely heavily on pronouns to describe who is talking. Not only that, many dialogue sentences have no he said, she said, or character said. What ended up happening, is that I was flipping back to the previous page to try to remember who Baru was even talking to. This was extremely annoying. Now, other readers that have a stronger focus while reading might not struggle with this issue, and my average intelligence might have had an issue keeping up with who was who, but I still can’t imagine any editor allowing the state of these scenes to be released like this.
There was such a lack of description during scenes that I found it very hard to get lost in the reading. The picture in my minds eye was so sparse. I guess the best way to explain the way this was written is to take WWII. Individual stories, of individual soldiers struggling in the war are interesting to me. Reading about Stalingrad, or one particular battle is interesting to me, and I feel like I’m learning strong details. The Traitor Baru Cormorant is more akin to reading an overview of the entirety of World War II from the perspective of the general responsible for an entire theater of operation. It is a story of people playing chess and not the story of an individual chess piece, and I enjoy stories of the knight or the rook over the story of the “white side.” This one wasn’t for me but a lot of people seem to love it. Pick it up, check it out, and see if you like the writing style before you buy it.
Plot – 3(Good)
Characters – 1(Weak)
Setting/World Building – 2(O.K.)
Writing Style – 1(Weak)
Heart & Mind Aspect – 1(Weak)