For the first several chapters of The Traitor Baru Cormorant, I was excited. Clearly I was in the hands of a master storyteller that had previously snuck under my radar. The characters were strong, the approach was interesting, the prose flowed smoothly. Unfortunately, after a few dozen pages, the book begins to feel a bit vague and rushed, and after the first third the book falls apart. By the end, the themes were so muddled that I’d largely lost interest. I see now that there are other books in the series, but I don’t see going on to read them.
In part, this is because the book I expected from that first third isn’t the book Dickinson had in mind. While I was looking forward to a personal story about ambition and justice, this is instead a book mostly about politics and military tactics, with ambition and justice thrown in for leavening, and a little bit of personal gloss. I’m just not that interested in politics and tactics, and especially tactics presented without any clear strategy.
Dickinson elides many of the decisions Baru makes, and many of her goals. It makes the book hard to follow, and makes the politics even less interesting, just as the lack of a clear political or military strategy makes the lengthy discussions of tactics senseless because they’re not moored to anything. Throughout the book, I never really felt that I understood why anyone was doing anything in particular, or what they hoped to gain from it. Similarly, Dickinson dips into and out of Baru’s emotions without ever really exploring any of them. One particular thread – what happened to one of her fathers – is frequently mentioned, but never developed. Now that I know this is a series, there’s at least the chance that the idea hasn’t been abandoned entirely.
Overall, though, I found the book a severe disappointment – not because I expected anything at the start, but because the start of the book is very good, and the remainder isn’t. There are a half-dozen interesting ideas scattered around, but very few are made use of, and the book soon forgets what it’s about.
With so much gone wrong in this first book, I won’t be reading the rest of the series. But perhaps, with those books of experience under his belt, Mr. Dickinson’s next outing will fulfill the promise the start of this book offered.
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review.