the Little Red Reviewer

Archive for the ‘Seth Dickinson’ Category

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson (Empire of Masks #3)

published Aug 11, 2020

Where I got it: got an eARC

 

 

Trigger warnings:  Cancer. Body horror.  Asymptomatic, highly infectious, and deadly diseases.

 

I’ve never put a trigger warning on a review before. But then again, I’ve never read a book like this before.  Also? This review rambles all over the place and is way, way too long. #sorrynotsorry.

 

I’m always wary of books that are described as “ambitious”.  It’s an unfair bias of mine, I know, but I see “ambitious”, and I think “that author bit off more than they could chew”.  Takes one to know one, my favorite hobby is biting off more than I can chew, so I get the allure, trust me.

 

The Tyrant Baru Cormorant?  Oh yeah, this whole series is the definition of “ambitious”, and thankfully not my definition.   So often, the tag of “ambitious” leads to me being disappointed. Not this time!  This series covers imperialism, colonialism,  extortion and blackmail, nature vs nurture,  multiple solutions to the same problem,  advanced medical procedures (and, um, weaponized diseases), so much manipulation, and the kind of enforced cultural norms that makes 1984 or Brave New World look like a saturday morning kids cartoon.  Yes, it’s ambitious to the teeth, and yes Dickinson succeeds.

 

I’ve not been able to shut up about Baru Cormorant for the last few years. I love what this story says about societies and cultures, how to destroy them and how to keep them safe.  I love that while the story is about Baru, she’s not the center of the story (even though she thinks she is). I love that this series is bigger than just her, it’s bigger than what she knows.  To steal from Dark, what she knows is a drop, what she doesn’t know is an ocean.

 

It would take me a year to explain everything that’s going on in this book, and as it’s the third in a series, this is literally a volume in which everything comes together,  alliances are redefined to expose empire-destroying secrets, entire continents are brought into world-spanning negotiations, diseases and cures are bargained for, and a truly glorious long game comes to fruition.    There is seriously about five series worth of characters, ideas, and material crammed into three books, and it works.

 

Sorry, I’m gonna be spoiling books one and two.  But the spoilers? Believe it or not, they don’t matter.  It’s the pure gorgeousness of the prose, the characters, the depth of all the shit that is going on, that is what’s gonna knock your socks off of this series.  Doesn’t matter if i tell you the plot spoilers, because that isn’t going to spoil the best stuff, trust me.

 

Alright, so a super fast sum-up, because there is too much to explain.  When the Empire of Masks came to Baru’s blissful village, they brought coin, trade, schools, vaccines, and their definition of cleanliness. A savant of sorts, Baru was chosen to attend their schools and take their exams.  When the Empire destroys her family, she vows to destroy them, from the inside out.     First step to destroying the Empire to pass their stupid test, and work her way up the ladder in their bureaucracy. Passing the test was easy.  Crashing the currency of Aurdwynn was easy.  Earning the trust of her allies? Understanding the family entanglements and regional relationships in Aurdwynn? Knowing who she can trust? Not so much.

 

(reading reviews, as opposed to my half-assed summaries more your thing? No problem. link to:  Review of book #1, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and review of book #2 The Monster Baru Cormorant)

 

Also? It’s really easy to be both naive and drunk on power when you’re like nineteen years old and have a  handler who constantly tells you how smart and how wonderful and how special you are.

 

In the ensuing invasion, Baru suffers a traumatic brain injury, permanently affecting her vision and perception.  There’s way more trauma to come, by the way, which we won’t talk about because spoilers.

 

In the second book, after “passing a test”, Baru is “gifted” with being taken back to the Imperial capital, Falcrest. As the only hostage-less cryptarch, no one quite knows what to do with her.  Yes, people had issues with the middle book, The Monster Baru Cormorant, and I understand those complaints. It’s very much a “middle book”, Baru doesn’t seem to know who she is,  she seems be pushed around more than usual,  etc.   I chose to view what she was doing as she was learning how the empire works, learning how the game of the larger world works,  trying to avoid the murderous gaze of Xate Yawa,  maybe starting to understand “the Farrier process”, and oh yeah, trying to recover from a brain injury, all at the same time.   I had a lot of sympathy for her, ok? And stop paying attention to what isn’t happening and start paying attention to what is happening. All that stuff with the Mbo Federal Princes? Pay attention, because that’s the important stuff.

 

Ok, all caught up?

 

Getting into the third book, what struck me as funny, was how small the Empire of Masks is on an actual map of the known world.   Like, they see themselves as the best, biggest, baddest,  bestest thing in the world, and the rest of the world is like “who are you again? Should I know you?”

 

This final book in the series has a ton of flashbacks. Not flashbacks of Baru’s youth, but flashbacks of Tau Indi’s youth, when Tau was just learning how to be a Federal Prince, alongside their best friends Kindala and Abdumasi, and what exactly happened that year that Cosgrad and Cardine spent with them. It was a year of jealousy and unspoken feelings, and Tau felt left behind when Abdu and Kindala decided what they needed to do, and didn’t discuss their decisions with Tau, who is convinced all can be solved through through the Mbo concept of trim.  Kindala and Abdu come up with their own solutions, solutions they don’t feel they can share with Tau.   (all the flashbacks make books 2 and 3 feel like one long book. I highly suggest binge reading this series so you can experience is as one long story, instead of three novels)

 

Meanwhile, in the now, Baru still has grand plans to destroy the empire from the inside. Her private polestar is “What would Tain Hu do?”,  and thinking about Tain Hu’s moral code keeps Baru in check, and helps her make better decisions.     Oh, and she found the Cancrioth, and the biological weapon that keeps the secret safe.

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The Monster Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (The Masquerade #2)

published October 2018

where I got it:  purchased new

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I do love a character focused narrative, so The Traitor Baru Cormorant was right up my alley. That novel was narrowly focused on Baru – if she didn’t know about a city or a culture or specific laws, then the reader didn’t either. Luckily, that narrative was focused on things Baru knew – her childhood home, accounting, how to manipulate currency, and the local politics of Aurdwynn. At this point in Baru’s life, we didn’t need to know anything she didn’t know.

 

The sequel, The Monster Baru Cormorant, starts just as the first book in the series is ending. Baru’s mission to bring down Aurdwynn was more successful than anyone could have imagined.  Maybe too successful, in fact. She was supposed to keep her lover alive. Baru was supposed to allow the Empire to keep Tain Hu has a hostage against Baru’s “good behavior”. Baru may be a product of the Farrier process, but she’s also already seen how hostages are used to encourage “good behavior”.   The Empire will never have Tain Hu.

 

Baru is now the only hostage-less cryptarch.  The other cryptarchs don’t know what to make of this – does this make her more powerful than they? More unpredictable and therefore less powerful?  They have nothing they can hold of Baru, and everyone knows it. You’ll notice I’m not mentioning the other Cryptarchs by name, because spoilers.

 

In my mind, this series has become an asymmetrical crystal chandelier of sorts.  Each aspect (Baru’s lack of hostage, nature vs nurture, the culture of the Mbo, trim, the cancrioth, how you can never go home, etc) is another facet cut into the crystal that changes how the light from the center of the chandelier falls on the room.  And depending on where you are standing, maybe you’ll see direct light, or indirect light, or only a pattern of shifting shadows. The Empire of Masks means something very different, depending on where you are standing. It follows that if you don’t like the view from where you are, that a change in perspective is all you need to see in full spectrum.

 

Those who stand in Falcrest believe they are the center of the world, the center of civilization. Those who stand in Lonjaro Mbo and Segu Mbo probably feel bad for the Falcresti, with their lack of trim, isolating culture, and limited currency.  It’s also interesting to me, how few Cryptarchs are Falcresti by birth, people now forced to serve an Empire that they have zero cultural connection to.

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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”.

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Traitor-Baru-498x750The Traitor Baru Cormorant, by Seth Dickinson

publishes on Sept 15, 2015

Where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (thanks Tor!)

read an excerpt, here!

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A hundred pages in, and I knew The Traitor Baru Cormorant would be a game-changer.  I can tell you right now this is my favorite book of 2015. I don’t even have the words to explain how this story affected me and what it did to me.   If you have ever taken my advice in the past to read a book, this is the time to take it again. The Traitor Baru Cormorant? Read it.

 

In this hard-to-believe-it’s-a debut novel, Dickinson responds to every single epic fantasy trope with “it’s more complicated than that”, and then he shows you why those complications are needed, and that every fantasy you’ve ever read leading up until right now has been sorely deficient in exploring complications. Culture, ambition, politics, conquest, morals, colonization, loyalty, rebellion, romance. Shouldn’t they be more complicated than your standard fantasy novel make them out to be? Yes, yes they should. Because they are.

 

It is not words that Dickinson uses to weave Baru’s story, but scalpel sharp razor blades. As Baru says, it’s not what the Empire does to you, it’s what the Empire makes you do to yourself.  No one will make you read this book, just as no one made Baru do anything. No one will make you slowly carve out your own heart and hold it still beating in your hands, looking for yourself in it’s glistening reflection, just as no one forced Baru to do the things she did (she doesn’t cut her own heart out, by the way, or at least not exactly). She made her choices, as will you. As you turn the pages, as you take Baru and her life into your own, you will do it to yourself, you will let those razors that masquerade as words cut you deep, again and again. And just like Baru, you won’t notice the pain until it’s too late.

 

When the Empire of Masks came to Baru’s homeland of Taranoke, she was but a child. While she was attending the shiny new school opened by the empire, her family saw what was happening around them. As Baru learned all the types of punishable sins and another definition of family, her entire culture was becoming unsanitary, illegal, and unacceptable under the eye of the empire. Everything she loved, everything that made her who she was, could not exist under the new rules.  Authoritarian? Sure. But the empire brought literacy, trade, new medicines, technology and protection from pirates. To be under the Empire of Masks was to be safe and protected, but also to assimilate completely, to keep children from ever knowing the culture of their parents.

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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.