Review of Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Tor, September 2015
At age seven, Baru Cormorant sees the trade ships from the Masquerade bringing goods and new ideas of hygiene, trade, education and morality. They also bring offers of ‘friendship.’ The Masquerade does not ‘conquer.’ Instead, it offers the opportunity to join in prosperity. Once someone joins, however, they’re stuck with the whole package. By the time she’s eight, Baru has lost one of her fathers to Masquerade ‘morality,’ and is enrolled in a Masquerade school where she has to hide her sexuality and her increasing hatred for the Masquerade. The Masquerade is based on talent--if Baru can show enough talent, perhaps she can win the chance to go to Falcrest, the center of the Masquerade. Perhaps, she can find a way to change things, to restore freedom to her people.
When Baru graduates, she is not assigned to Falcrest. Instead, she scores so well on the civil service exams that she’s named Imperial Accountant to Aurdwynn, another Masquerade tributary state. There, she is tasked to use her auditing skills to uncover and root out any rebellion (and Aurdwynn is famous for its rebellion). When Baru’s first gambit succeeds in suppressing rebellion at the cost of her career, she wonders whether she’s gone down the wrong path. Perhaps she can do more for her homeland by destroying the Masquerade in Aurdwynn than she can by being loyal to the regime she hates.
Author Seth Dickinson creates an intriguing world and a wonderful character in Baru Cormorant. Although the Masquerade enforces its hygiene code (especially the sexually related items) rigidly, it also brings economic growth and medical technology with it. It really does attempt to practice a form of meritocracy in a world where everyone else seems to achieve their positions based on birth or wealth. In fact, one question Baru must ask herself as she weighs treason is whether anything can be done to stop the Masquerade or whether a successful rebellion means only more suffering over more time as the economic inevitability of the Masquerade rolls on.
TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is a highly polished work. It’s hard to believe this is a first novel and I’ll definitely be looking for more by Seth Dickinson.
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