‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ Book Review

Mount Readmore Book Review, 2017 86/100


The Traitor Baru Cormorant By Seth Dickinson

Audible Edition, narrated by Christine Marshall

Finished on 10/13/2017


Description: The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an epic geopolitical fantasy about one woman’s mission to tear down an empire by learning how to rule it.

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.


Genres: Fantasy, LGBT, Political Fantasy, Low Fantasy, Grimdark, Financial Fantasy, Colonialism, Military Fantasy

In the Empire of Masks, the currency of power is Control.

Spoiler-tastic review

Baru ‘Fisher’ Cormorant is the most detestable antihero I’ve ever read. It took me the better part of two years to actually finish it because it was such a difficult read.

I’ll admit that Grimdark isn’t really my thing, because I find depressing books to be… well… depressing. This is such a book. I can respect this book anyway because it bridges three of my favorite other sub-genres in the Fantasy genre: Political Fantasy, Military fantasy and Financial Fantasy. If I am going to compare this book to another, it will be to the Song of Ice and Fire books by G. R. R. Martin because of that focus.

Here’s my thinking about this book: it was good, but not happy. I would recommend that you check it out if you’re in the mood for a challenging read. The author’s writing skill is unique in a good way and the plot is very quickly paced (years happen in a matter of chapters)- indeed the author’s style and the plot are my favorite parts of the book.

Finally, just listening to this audiobook made me feel dirty. The Empire of Masks is obsessed with eugenics, and that obsession has spread to all of their colonies. It colors the very tone and texture of this story, and was the main source of my discontent with this book. It made me feel icky to read.

Baru is a lesbian in hiding in the extremely anti-gay Empire society, and has to sacrifice herself from page 1 onward to further her political agenda. Honestly what I objected most about this book was the constant intrusion of the anti-gay narrative in the book, into what would have otherwise been a fantastic Political, Military and Financial Fantasy book. If this book didn’t firmly ascribe to the Bury Your Gays trope I would have loved it. As is, the author took a character who I would have found sympathetic and unique (an lgbt woman who gained power through mathematics) and used that unique aspect and turned it into a massive pill to swallow. If this book was more subtle, I would have been happier.

All that said, the cover really is a fantastic representation of the book’s emotional context. I do highly recommend this book, and I will be reading the followup book. This book was POWERFUL, and I want more.


Despite this, Stay Sunny!


Audiobook notes: Excellent!


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