Book Review: The Traitor by Seth Dickinson

Author: Seth Dickinson

Title: The Traitor

Publisher: Tor

Date: 2015

Synopsis: 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.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

The Traitor was a spontaneous purchase a few months ago when I needed to boost my basket at The Works. I’m trying to read other things than just my Netgalley books right now and decided I would review this.

The first thing to note is that this is a deceptively lengthy book. The second thing is that this review is going to be hard to write without giving anything away: the title is an indication of how much these characters trust each other and nothing is as it seems.

The book has the makings of an enjoyable one. A rebellion to overthrow tyranny, large scale battles, tactics, alliances… Everything I tend to enjoy in a story.

There were a few minor things (and one major) that let it down for me though.

This is a fantasy world, which is fine (you all know I love fantasy). The names are a bit of a mouthful to say but you generally pick up what is being discussed. The names of the characters, however, did throw me. For ages, I couldn’t connect who was who, and had no idea for a few of them if they were men or women. Not that it matters, but it prevented me from feeling that I could relate to these characters. I didn’t feel you get to know them.

Even Baru, the main character, felt detached the entire way through. I knew what motivated her and you know her fears and dreams. But in terms of emotion, something is missing; it’s hard to empathise with her character. She’s supposed to be inspiring a rebellion but it’s hard to see why the other characters would follow her when, as the reader, you can’t relate.

Better a woman of divided loyalties than of no loyalty at all. Better a reluctant traitor than the terror of a true sociopath.

You also forget what Baru is fighting for. She claims it is her homeland, but her own personal feelings on some of the teachings of the throne made her feel like a hypocrite, and add another level of distance between her and the reader.

The twist at the end undermines any progress you make with Baru. In fact, any of the characters you began to relate to is swept away, leaving me with a really unsatisfied “oh” feeling when the book comes to an end. I didn’t like Baru for most of the book and certainly didn’t by the end. When you can’t connect with your main character, it ruins the book for me.

Which is a shame, because the majority of the plot is quite enjoyable. You get swept up in the details,from collapsing the economy, to raids to full decisive battles. There is tension, there is forbidden love, spymasters and pirates. It could have had it all…if only it had likeable characters.

I don’t want to sound negative about this book because I did finish it and, for most of the book, I was intrigued at how it was going to go and whether they would win. I wanted them to win. But the complexities and the untouchable characters undermined it.

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23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Traitor by Seth Dickinson

  1. Such a shame when you cant relate to the main character as it does just totally ruin the whole of the book. Also I totally understand with the names, it would throw me too. Great honest review. Emma x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a great review! I know how hard it is to review books when you don’t want to give anything away. It’s a shame that you couldn’t connect to the main character …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s such a shame about the characters – it sounds like a really interesting plot but if I can’t relate to the characters then I find my eyes often glaze over when reading. Totally agree with you about the importance of names as well – if they’re not obvious what sort of character they’re relevant to then description and engaging traits are really important instead.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the book as much as you’d hoped. I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy stories. I can never keep up with who’s who and always have trouble following the names of places and characters because I can’t pronounce them. I recently read a book of short stories and I couldn’t follow the fantasy stories well for this reason. I hope you enjoy you next read more 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great review! I have read so many books where I couldn’t connect to the characters and or keep up with who was who. It’s nice to read such an honest review xxx

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  6. Great review hun, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t enjoy the book but at least you managed to read through to the end. I’ll admit, the cover immediately caught my eye: it was hard to look away. xoxo

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    • Great review. The cover instantly drew my eye and if I saw it in a shop window or on a shelf, I’d probably snap it up. Sorry to hear you didn’t enjoy the book as much as you you’d hoped. I have so many books in my unfinished pile because I couldn’t relate to the characters.

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  7. The book sounds pretty interesting, just a shame the characters weren’t ones you could connect with. I have always been a firm believer that characters are just as important as plot when it comes to a good book. I might read this one and see how it appeals to me.

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