I have now read the Traitor Baru Cormorant twice in the past year, and may do so again when the sequel comes out. That in itself should give you an idea of how I feel about this novel. But in case it doesn’t, here is a full review to clear things up.
To be honest, I’ve become something of a fantasy snob in recent years. Your more traditional offerings in the genre just don’t do it for me anymore. (with the exception of ASoIaF, of course) Call me names if you want, or uninvite me from your annual Wheel of Time reread, but there it is. What I still enjoy, though, are fantasy novels that use their secondary worlds as vehicles for tackling complex themes. And that’s exactly what Traitor does, leveraging its fantasy setting to examine issues such as sexuality, imperialism, religious suppression, economic warfare and racial profiling.
Sounds like an absolute blast, huh?
In all seriousness, this book can be very hard to read at times – although I mean that in the best of ways. Throughout the narrative, the titular Baru is forced (or is she?) to make a series of ever more brutal choices, all of which have devastating consequences for herself, those closest to her, and the world as a whole. These decisions slowly tear Baru apart, and since the novel is written in tight third person, we get to experience her disintegration at close range. It’s a painful but utterly engrossing experience that boils over into one of the most emotionally effective endings I’ve read in fantasy fiction.
This is me we’re talking about though, and so of course I have a few grievances to air. Here they are in no particular order:
1. The prose in the novel’s first half is habitually fantastic, but becomes a bit too impressed with itself for stretches of the second.
2. The battle scenes are too long in my opinion, if only because they leave less time for all the other stuff that I found so interesting.
3. The character development can seem a bit cliched and occasionally plot serving at times, especially in the case of Tain Hu, the Ernie to Baru’s Bert.
Thankfully, these minor annoyances get crushed like bugs under the fly swatter of the novel’s tour de force ending. I also loved that the evil empire in the novel is savagely creepy without sacrificing believability. You usually have to settle for one or the other, but Dickinson manages to put the devil into the details here.
In conclusion, Traitor is an excruciating but ultimately rewarding novel that I beg you to pick up, and more importantly, to finish – no matter how emotionally draining it might be. The sequel is coming out in a few months, and I personally can’t wait/am dreading to learn what kind of morally suspect shenanigans Baru gets up to next.
Weird factor: B+