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Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (An Exploration by D.C. Stewart)

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OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I do not think I have ever read a book with a more appropriate title, nor one so multi-layered, as Seth Dickinson’s The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Before even cracking the cover, a reader knows that this person, this Baru, will betray someone. They do not know the extent of the betrayal, nor who or why it will come about, but it colors this character immediately, and it is upon learning that she is the protagonist that something occurs to a reader - this person is not to be trusted. The unreliable narrator is a common trope in fiction, but not often is it made so transparent right from the start.

But Baru is about as transparent as a brick wall, and after nearly 400 pages, I was left as puzzled by her as I was from the beginning.

The story of The Traitor Baru Cormorant is one familiar to any of us prescient about U.S. history. A large empire invades the rest of the world, bringing with it disease and economy, and gentrifies it. Dickinson places a particular emphasis on the economy portion of this takeover, stressing the Falcresti Empire’s ability to replace foreign currency with its own, and thus control all trade, as its means to success. Money is every bit as insidious as the plagues that the Masquerade (a nickname for the Empire, so given because their soldiers wear expressionless masks into battle) sows amongst less civilized populations and likely kills nearly as many. Baru Cormorant is a young girl from Taranoke when the story begins, and she watches the Masquerade invade and take over her beloved homeland without so much as a battle. Determined early on to somehow topple this regime, she demonstrates an out-of-the-ordinary genius and is noticed by one of the most powerful men of Falcrest who just happens to be posing as a merchant in her local market. She is fast tracked through the education system of the Masquerade, and upon graduation is shipped off to quell rumors of rebellion in northern Aurdwynn.

Baru is a difficult character to love or hate. As the novel progresses, we watch her plot and maneuver in ways that even the blackhearted might find a little squeamish. She does so, ultimately, for the love of her homeland. To Baru, any means justify the recovery of Taranoke, and this is where we see the true nature of the book’s title. Baru is The Traitor to everyone but herself, and it is a nerve- and mind-wracking game that she plays in juggling all the many masks that she is forced to don and shed as she plots her way into the heart of the Empire. In the end, I could respect Baru Cormorant for being one of the most cunning and manipulative characters I have ever read, but I could never like her. As book two of this series would suggest, Baru is a monster in all but appearance.

I take notes while I am reading, and as I was reading through The Traitor Baru Cormorant, I kept writing down questions, as though I were asking Seth Dickinson why this was happening, or where was this character while all of this was playing out. By the last page of this book, my questions had been answered, every one, and I am unsure whether or not I am impressed by Dickinson’s ability to sow confusion or angered by it. Part of the reason for this confusion lies in the somewhat un-satisfying conclusion to Baru’s betrayal of the Aurdwynni rebellion. There is no doubt that this floored me and that I did not see it coming (despite the book’s title). However, after a battle scene that reads like “The Song of Roland,” with all of its tempo and lyricism, Baru’s escape seems like a deflated balloon. She rides away, with a half-hearted chase by Duke Oathsfire, and then washes up on a personal island with a malady that removes half the world from her sight.

Because of the method of narration here, we are never able to see what Baru is actually thinking, and further, because of Dickinson’s unwillingness to ever show any transparency with this story, it is not feasible that such an ending could have the emotional impact that it deserves. The portion with Tain Hu on the island did have that, and it is raw and painful, but aside from that we do not feel a true sense of betrayal from Baru. Perhaps in the end, when the series is wrapped up and we see whether or not Baru Cormorant has toppled an Empire, when we see what lies behind the mask and whether it was worth all of this pain and strife, perhaps then an emotional anvil will descend and leave us all flattened. Seth Dickinson’s first novel is more than good enough to hold out for that.

CONCLUSION: Despite some misgivings about the book, there is no doubt that The Traitor Baru Cormorant is something special. It is unique in fantasy literature, and in literature as a whole. I have never read a book with such geopolitical maneuvering, the kind that puts such hornet’s nests like A Game of Thrones to shame, nor one that uses currency and economic control so much to its benefit. Dickinson’s prose splits between the workmanlike and the poetic while never firmly establishing itself in either, but it works.. His use of sexual politics is also fascinating and deeply human. In short, The Traitor Baru Cormorant is an eye-opening experience, fresh and bold, and sets a course for Baru Cormorant that is both thrilling and terrifying.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

EXCLUSIVE COVER REVEAL: City Of Kings by Rob J. Hayes (by Mihir Wanchoo)

For the CITY OF KINGS cover I started with an idea. That idea was to get Shawn King to do all the hard work and make my book look pretty. I think it's fair to say he succeeded.

I approached Shawn with no pre-existing artwork and only a few examples of the sort of thing I wanted. My first thrust of an idea was something akin to Sebastien de Castell's Greatcoat's series. I had in mind a black rose, bleeding out across a white page and a furious battle reflected in the blood.

Shawn countered by conjuring an image of a battlefield with the fighting all but done, weapons and armour bloodied and strewn about the carnage. And standing prominently at the centre of the image, an axe, knocked and dinted from the battle, planted in the earth. The stem of a single black rose curled around the haft, blood dripping from its midnight petals.

Fanciful images both, but neither particularly practical for a book cover for various reasons. We hammered out the themes the cover needed. The single bleeding, black rose was the most obvious and was always going to be the most prominent of the features. Along with that there needed to be thorns, and a general feel of winter. The cover needed to be striking and work both as a paperback cover and an ebook cover, and it also needed to draw the eye when used as a thumbnail.

With a crack of the whip, I sent Shawn back to work. The smoke from his forge darkened the sky day and night, and finally he presented me with... the cover. I approved.

In truth I always knew I wanted Shawn to do the cover for this book. I've worked with him a number of times before and always been amazed by his talent, but this was the first time I decided to go for a full Shawn King original cover.

So with the process of cover creation detailed, I'll also tell you a little about the book. It's a continuation of my First Earth saga of books. It's a stand alone and is designed so it can be read independently of the other books with very little in the way of spoilers. It does, however, follow on from my debut trilogy, The Ties That Bind, and returns the action to the Untamed Wilds and to the Black Thorn and his crew of outlaws. And here's the official blurb:

Pre-order CITY OF KINGS over HERE

War makes monsters and corpses of us all.

For generations the blooded have ruled the Wilds, cultivating a lawless frontier and bleeding the good folk dry. The Black Thorn, once the most wanted outlaw the world has ever seen, is set on stopping them, and bringing an end to the great game that oppresses them all.

Crucible is the only blooded fortress left, but not for nothing is it called the City of Kings. Its defenses are unbreakable, its walls unassailable, all built so one hundred can hold back a thousand. Worse yet, the Black Thorn is running out of time and there are darker things hiding underground, looking to turn the city into a tomb.

"Everless: Book 1 in the Everless Series" by Sara Holland (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

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 OVERVIEW: In the kingdom of Sempera, time is currency—extracted from blood, bound to iron, and consumed to add time to one’s own lifespan. The rich aristocracy, like the Gerlings, tax the poor to the hilt, extending their own lives by centuries.

No one resents the Gerlings more than Jules Ember. A decade ago, she and her father were servants at Everless, the Gerlings’ palatial estate, until a fateful accident forced them to flee in the dead of night. When Jules discovers that her father is dying, she knows that she must return to Everless to earn more time for him before she loses him forever.

But going back to Everless brings more danger—and temptation—than Jules could have ever imagined. Soon she’s caught in a tangle of violent secrets and finds her heart torn between two people she thought she’d never see again. Her decisions have the power to change her fate—and the fate of time itself.

FORMAT: Everless is the first book in a proposed YA fantasy series. It stands at 362 pages and was published January 2, 2018 by HarperTeen.

ANALYSIS: After reading between 100 and 200 books every year for at least 10 years, it is hard to not become jaded every time you pick up a book. A brief glance at Everless and it looks and sounds just like every YA fantasy novel out there, but it honestly blew me away.

Sara Holland has perfected how to toss out plot twists at readers in such a way that it kept the guessing what was happening or would happen. Just when things were starting to settle down and I would get the feeling of "oh I know where this is going", Holland would throw a twist into the plot that took the novel into a direction that wasn't what I was expecting.

With all the plot twists and turns, one would assume that something – character development or world building – would have to be sacrificed. After all, the book is only 350 plus pages, not 800 or 900. But it isn't. While the world building starts off a bit sketchy and uncertain, by the end of the book it is completely detailed and really well-rounded. The characters are extremely developed and thought out. Not everyone is what they seem on the outside, which leads to a few plot twists and unexpected moments.

What really stood out to me was Sara Holland's ability to take a general concept – measuring time and using it like currency – and give it a unique twist. Of course, the concept of measuring time and using it as currency isn't new, but the way it is presented and how it is incorporated into the plot gave it a unique feel that kept readers captivated and wanting to read.

While I absolutely loved Everless, it did have a few problems as many debut novels do. My biggest issue was with a certain plot element. Jules, our main character, has this huge infatuation with one of the princes in the story. She is instantly drawn to him and madly in love because "they hung out together when they were 7" but they haven't seen each other in close to 9 years. It just seemed far-fetched that she would be in love at 7 and still hold such strong feelings for someone she hadn't seen in so long.

Even though this one plot point was present, it didn't ruin the novel for me. In fact, I would probably go as far as to say it was one of my top reads so far for 2018. I will warn you that there is a pretty big cliffhanger-like ending to the book which just makes me all the more excited for book 2. I would definitely recommend this book to YA fantasy fans who are looking for a well-written book that has the unique ability to add a creative twist to a genre that is saturated with


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