Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant
This is a tough book to review. I'm not really sure who it's for, except, of course, it's for me.
The Traitor is a book about politics. Specifically Imperial politics; that is politics of the conquered and the conquerors. Politics with a capital P that melts itself and worries it's way down into the roots of everything to do with humans that must live next to each other. I figure that's a good way to scare most people off from this book. Politics is one of those topics that fascinates people enough to get them to look close enough to remind them how much it disgusts them. One of those things that gets you into the first chapter of the book and then you put down somewhere in the second.
The panacea to this problem, which The Traitor uses to excellent effect, is to examine a single life and the effect that politics has on them. Even better to watch someone who doesn't just wallow in the run off of political power, but climbs up the slick and slimy limestone walls to the source. This book gives us such a character in Baru. Someone who's weapons are conversation and economic acumen rather then sword and magic.
Set in a Romanesque landscape in an island empire, we follow Baru as she at first experiences the effect of empirical expansion not using warfare, but economic invasion. Something that both makes her sick and jealous. The slow evolution of her experiences, her personal point of view, draw us expertly from the shores of her village to the heights of empirical power. It's the necessary element for making the complicated, dry, and infinitely fascinating land of politics if not palatable then relate-able.
There are fantastical elements, and often the mercurial nature of court politics looks magical to those on the bottom of the social ladder, but those items are left at the outskirts of the story for obvious later expansion. It's just enough that it's an excellent bit of decoration for a world that leans on the magic of people and how they manage each other.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant receives a four out of five stars.