The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade) - may have spoilers

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K. A. Pital
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The Traitor Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade) - may have spoilers

Post by K. A. Pital » 2018-01-04 09:43am

I am a bit surprised there isn’t a thread for this book here already, considering that we have many progressive left members. Thanks to fgalkin for this find - I must say here did not expect it to be so serious, but it was a surprise in a good sense.

First - that book is great. The author uses the language very skillfully and only rarely lets some things slip (on purpose or not, but some words carry unique references to real world history or religion, and thus pose a problem in such a richly designed world, although it can always be handwaved away as an acceptable translation from the in-universe languages which are being used by the characters).

The genre is something between hard fantasy and... hmm, I guess it can be called sailpunk, because it is set late in the age of sail, technology and science are definetely a thing, but we’re not quite at the full-blown XIX-XX century industrial machine level yet.

Not much could be said about the story without spoiling it. But wandering into the book expecting something like Game of Thrones (grimdark feudal wars story where people and key characters die left and right) is not entirely correct. ASOIAF and other epic fantasy stories cannot match the scale of the unfolding events in this book, and the usual fantasy threats (evil magic, demons, undead, etc.) seem a good cop-out to provide an ambigious setting with more or less clear protagonists and antagonists. Not so here, where the historic grand process of empire-building does not exactly allow for many sympathies; by the end of the book, almost all sympathies feel misplaced. Characters do die, but often in a predictable way, with ample foreshadowing - the book does not rely that much on shock surprise deaths to drive its points.

In many ways the story is so good because, as all good fiction, it is heavily based on reality. That reality which was once called the “British Empire” (we now know it has met its demise at the hands of other different empires, that it, too, can fail after centuries, and many other things - something people in the time of its ascendancy could not know, and it makes the situations in the book feel very real). Of course, it is not a direct copy, more of an amalgamation of European colonial seafaring empires (including the USA - after all, the Empire is also a Republic in name and partially in structure, as many powerful empires also were), but still, very amazing job by the author to make that empire seem just as real as any of our real-world counterparts, but leaving room for distinctions. The masks are a very good take at the modern bureaucracy and enforcement, which trancend time speaking directly about the present - after all, uniforms and faceless rows of police are still a thing, and perhaps now more than ever we only face a mask, not a human, when facing off the state or speaking to it)

I think it is a must read for people thinking they’re progressive-minded, and especially if they think one can change a system from within. It is perhaps the most scathing and systematic criticism of crude utilitarianism and early capitalism I’ve seen in Western fiction, very sharp and pointed. The “civilizers” and civilization itself are questioned, and many supporters of simple calculations “one live vs many lives” would be presented with unnerving questions about the acceptability of such “accounting” (fittingly, the main character is an accountant) and complex situations which keep questioning that self-numbing mantra. It is very adult reading for sure and recommendation to read it only extends to people who can read a chronicle of the real-world genocides, colonization crimes, preindustrial wars and the like, without being affected too much. If you are not accustomed to the above and wish for a simpler story, or a more optimistic view, this book won’t be my pick.

Discussion is welcome.
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