the Little Red Reviewer

why do I read books that destroy me?

Posted on: October 1, 2018

All day at work today, I said to myself “self, after dinner tonight, you really need to write that review of The Guns Above. Like, really!  It had super fun dialog, a great pace, and damn smart science, so just write the review already!”


And then I got home from work, had some dinner, made a cup of tea, and saw Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant sitting on the desk.  I finished my reread of this book last night. The 2nd book in the series, The Monster Baru Cormorant, is coming out in a few weeks, and I’d wanted to refresh myself on the details of what happened in the first book.



Why do I do this to myself? Why do I read books that break me into a million little pieces, and then read them again?   I don’t wish for any of these terrible things to happen in real life, i don’t wish pain or loss on anyone, why am I obsessed with reading fantasies about it? What is wrong with me?


You ever read any Robin Hobb?  Someone once asked how she writes such compelling books. She responded with something along the lines of “I think of the worst thing that I can do to my character, and then I do it”.


With Baru Cormorant, Seth Dickinson has said to Hobb “here, hold my beer”.



The millionth thing I love about this book is that it is not a typical epic fantasy.  Baru is not a warrior, she is not a fighter, she barely knows how to ride a horse. I laughed my head off when I came across the “futures market” scene, as I remember watching this scene in Spice and Wolf, and reading it in Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle.  Seeing cultures discover banking, and all the loopholes therein is morbidly fascinating.


You think the invention of the wheel changed mankind? Ha, that’s nothing compared to money, money lending, banking, interest, and futures markets. Civilizations can be built and destroyed on the backs of coins, and as the Imperial Accountant, Baru knows she holds more power than any army. Had someone told me the true power of economics, I’d have paid more attention in that boring college Econ class!


It was neat to see what I’d remembered correctly, what I’d remembered skewed, and what I hadn’t remembered at all from my first read through:

Non-spoilery things that I’d remembered correctly:  some things that Baru learns early in her education, and some things she learns early in her career. That she crashes an economy to make a point.  That she sustains an injury. I remembered the name of that one particular Duchess. I remembered that Dickinson’s writing was brilliant.


Non-spoilery things that I’d forgotten:  all the names of the different Dukes (omg, So many names!).  I’d forgotten how freaking cool (and fucking terrifying) Purity Cartone is.  I’d forgotten how damn brilliant Dickinson’s writing was.


I remembered that she can never go home, because her family will no longer recognize her. Is that what education does to us all? Isn’t that what happened to Binti? She left home to follow her dream, and when she visited her family a year later they looked at her as if she was a stranger to them.  Does following your dreams mean leaving your family behind? (do our parents unwittingly stagnate us, because they don’t want us to leave and come back as a stranger?)


If you’ve been waiting to read this book, now’s the time.  You’ll have it finished just in time to jump right into the 2nd book, The Monster Baru Cormorant, which comes out Oct 30.


Some bits and pieces that leapt off the page and left their mark on me this time around:


Out of context passage that isn’t too spoilery:

“When her control faltered it let slip rage: jaw-splitting, teeth-breaking, thought-killing anger, minute and obsessive in its detail, omnivorous in its appetite. Anger at every choice and circumstance that had brought the world to this unacceptable state.


Fury against causality”


I’ve felt anger like that.  Anger I can’t control, can’t escape, can’t do anything except allow it to eat me. I had all this anger, and i didn’t know what to do with it, I didn’t know how to process it, i didn’t know how to get it to stop eating me. Did I eventually  get past it? Sure. did it suck at the time? Yep. does it feel nice to even fantasy characters get so mad they are seeing red and spitting nails? YES!


There is a scene where someone who needs a word with Baru maybe (or maybe not) poisons her.


“The Antidote,” she said.  “Now. Or I’ll kill you as an intruder in my home, and take my risks with the poison”.

[redacted so as not to spoil stuff]

“ . .  if you want to survive it, Baru Cormorant, you will make yourself worth an antidote”.


I think that’s why I read this stuff. I read this stuff because  I want to be worth the antidote.


The reading of this kind of thing is the antidote. I want to be worthy of reading it, of absorbing it, of allowing it to change me.  I want to take the poison of horrible things happening to characters I’ve invested my heart into, and transmute that pain into survival, transmute it into something that’s worth a damn.   By going through the crucible, I’ll be strengthened by it.


Of course, that only holds true if you like that sort of thing.


Spoilery questions, just because:


The character who died in the quarantine carriage. We never see this person’s body. Was it really that person in the carriage? Is that person really dead? (and if that person did die, did they eat the pages of the notebook as the only sure method of destroying the pages? Was the ink poisonous?)


Did the priestess share her secrets?



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FTC Stuff

some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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