Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review: The Traitor

Title: The Traitor
Author: Seth Dickinson
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781447281139
Publisher: Tor
Published: 2015
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

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Baru Cormorant believes any price is worth paying to liberate her people - even her soul.

When the Empire of Masks conquers her island home, criminalizes her customs, and murders one of her Fathers, Baru vows to hide her hate, join the Empire's civil service, and claw her way up enough rungs of power to put a stop to the Emperor's influence and set her people free.

As a natural savant, she is sent as an imperial agent to distant Aurdwynn - a post she worries will never get her the position and power she craves. But Baru soon discovers Aurdwynn is a complex and secretive country, seemingly on the brink of rebellion. All it would need is a match to the tinder . . .

Drawn by the intriguing duchess Tain Hu into a circle of seditious aristocrats, Baru may be able to use her position to stoke a revolution that will threaten to bring the Empire to its knees.
As Baru maintains a precarious balance between the rebels and a shadowy cabal within the Empire, she orchestrates a do-or-die gambit with Aurdwynn's freedom as the prize. But winning the long game of saving her own people may be far more costly than Baru imagines.

Seth Dickinson’s debut novel, The Traitor (published as The Traitor Baru Cormorant in the US) is a smart, brutal, multilayered fantasy novel which manages to subvert your expectations every step of the way.

The story centres around Baru Cormorant, an intensely intelligent, witty and perceptive female character as she is transformed from an innocent little girl into a ruthless tool to be wielded by her country’s conquerors. It’s this transformation and the turmoil she undergoes, both physically and emotionally that makes Baru such an engaging character. From the start she has to make ruthless choices in order to bring her vow of vengeance - to fight the Empire from within - to fruition. But betraying the Empire also means that she has to betray herself and her very nature. What happens when you can’t separate yourself from the mask you wear?

“It’s not what the Masquerade does to you that you should fear...
It’s what the Masquerade convinces you to do to yourself.” (page 187)

The Traitor is beautifully written with superb world building and characterisation that truly shines. The world is filled with complex, engaging characters that will crawl into your heart and leave you an emotional wreck by the end. While the pacing is slow initially, it ramps up steadily as events draw to a head. And it’s with the breathtaking finale when all the political intrigue, the betrayals and machinations come full circle that The Traitor will blow you away.

Even after being forewarned the ending is a brutal punch to the gut which will leave you shell-shocked and emotionally drained. Not many novels can manage to surprise you even when you are fully expecting the twist, but Dickinson manages to do just that in the most harrowing way.

I can’t wait to see what the next instalment has to offer; it’s going to be tough to top this. But first I think I might need a year or two to recover . . .

The Verdict:
The Traitor is a smart, brutal, multilayered fantasy novel filled with political intrigue and complex, engaging characters. The ending is brutal and harrowing in the best possible way. If you are looking for a fantasy novel that offers something different from the norm, then this is most definitely it. Highly recommended!

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Eileen from Pan Macmillan S.A. for providing the review copy.


  1. Definitely going to make time to read this one sometime soon. Have heard lots of fantastic things about it and I love character-driven stories. This one sounds like it would easily win me over!


  2. Given the verdict, it seems weird you've only given it 8/10!

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for your comment. I'm normally very strict with the ratings I give in the higher range. I very seldom give a rating above 8 since I want to reserve that for novels that are truly exceptional in every way. Those will be rare indeed.

      Hope that makes sense.