Audiobook Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson

October 27, 2015 3 stars, Audio Book, Book Review 7 ★★★

Audiobook Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonThe Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson
Published by Macmillan Audio, Tor Books on September 15, 2015
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Length: 14 hours
Narrator: Christine Marshall
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher

*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.

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.

I had a hard time listening to The Traitor Baru Cormorant. I think this book helped me come to the conclusion that while I love fantasy, perhaps epic fantasy isn’t quite for me. I really like books to have a silver lining or something uplifting about it, even if its hidden in there where I have to dig for it. Too much doom and gloom and it really starts to effect me. I get all moody and unmotivated. I’m sure lots of readers are effected on that kind of level. Since I say that – what do you think happened to me here? That’s right – I got punched in the kisser. Was it a bad book? No. I think for those fantasy lovers or folks that really enjoy the heavy issue books and are big into feeling the pain, then this will be right up your alley. For me though – not my cup of tea. I know I know – I can’t expect everything to be sunshine and rainbows because hey real life isn’t like that, history isn’t like that, war, conquest, discrimination – etc. I know these things. But I like having some more positive mojo to balance them out when I’m reading. Heck I don’t even watch the news anymore because I can’t stand the negativity.  Mostly though I could have gotten past all of that if I had actually attached to the character – but unfortunately I never did. Baru just never spoke to me. Moving on.

Beginning: “She’s a smart kid this should be good”…

10-20% into it: “Hmm I’m not feeling attached to her yet, she’s a bit dry.” – and yes she remains dry for the most part throughout the entire book. How to describe her characters, analytical, conniving – someone you wouldn’t want to be on the bad end of because she’s going to smirk and you now and find a way to stick it to you later. Yeah a good character build actually and hey I can get behind those kinds of traits in a main character so I have no idea really why I just wasn’t feeling her. The strongest parts for me were her interactions with her partner Tain Hu.

That brings me around to a point. This book is what I’ve come to think of as an “issues” book. I really think its great that more strides are being made in SFF publishing to have more diverse books and characters. But sometimes I think ehh it isn’t always working out in favor of the book if they turn it into an ‘issue’. There were some great things going on about Baru’s native culture. There was LGBTQ acceptance and multi-partner relationships (which sounds like a very interesting culture). But they turned that LBGTQ aspect into a major issue for abuse. And jeez you hear about that enough sometimes that I want to see some positive things happen for a change.

To go into more of what I mean by “issues book” – Do you ever feel like a book is about something just for the sake of being about something? I typically don’t like when a book targets a group of people in such a way and then its all about their suffering (what do you know I hate reading books on the holocaust – my local book club went through a whole period of time where it seemed like that was all people were recommending) – anyways. Suffering is real, but I don’t particularly enjoy reading about it. And you are going to get your fair share of that here. I guess that’s why I never got into grimdark. Though this likely isn’t anywhere near what folks would consider grimdark, but I’m not expert there since I stay far away from that stuff.

It’s a strong fantasy and tells a story of a young woman who is determined to get at this conquering country from the inside out. If you like strong analytical main characters and you don’t need the occasional ray of sunshine in your fantasy from time to time like I do then definitely give it a go. I’d say read some other reviews to get a feel for whether this will be for you. I’m sure heavy epic fantasy readers won’t have an issue with it – but a only sometime epic fantasy reader like myself perhaps might.

Thoughts on the narration

This book had some great narration. I have to give it to Christine Marshall that she was the only reason why I was able to finish. A narrator can completely save a book for me and in this case that is what she did. Just a few years ago I used to never abandon books, but these days now that I have a toddler and newborn I’m much more apt to give up on a book if it isn’t working for me. She helped make the character less dry for me and the overall experience much smoother.


On a side note – I noticed that a number of other readers I know and respect seemed to be on very opposite ends of the spectrum in regards to this book and it’s content. I really found their reviews to be very insightful especially concerning the way LGBTQ treatment. I would definitely scope out the reviews on both ends of the 5 star to 1 star spectrum!

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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7 Responses to “Audiobook Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson”

  1. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I find epic fantasy to be the hardest sub-genre to listen to, tbh. And, I also know, as much as I have always loved dark books, my tolerance for dark went way down for a bit when my kids were really little like yours are now. So, kudos for finishing, but nothing wrong with it not being quite your thing, I have heard some other readers say his book was particularly brutal/emotional towards the end. I’m hoping to give it a try one of these days and it is liable to be audio, so glad to hear good things about the narration.
    Lisa (@TenaciousReader) recently posted…Review: Planetfall by Emma NewmanMy Profile

    • Tabitha (Pabkins)

      I find that the past few years – probably because of having kids that I can’t read epic fantasy anymore but listening to it has been fine. I really think I prefer Brandon Sanderson the most out of the epics but you know I really don’t think its the subgenre for me – most of that stuff tends to just be too depressing for me. So I haven’t read in it very extensively. And yes – my tolerance for doom and gloom has gone WAY down even more since having the babies.

      Like The Fifth Season – the stuff that happened to those kids….oh jeez but you know even with how dark some of that was I still LOVED that book. So I really think it depends also on the writing and my connection to the characters you know?

      You’ll probably like this one more then I did – I know Mogsy loved it. You guys are more in the know on epics and all that hardcore fantasy. I just dip my toe into it haha.
      Tabitha (Pabkins) recently posted…Audiobook Review: The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth DickinsonMy Profile

  2. Wendell

    Thanks for the honest review. I’ve been keeping my eye on this one for a while, and yeah, there have been those who loved it. But even the five star reviews mention that this is dry, dark, brutally sad, and full of pc messages. I’ve stayed away, because I read to be entertained, not preached at or driven to seek psychiatric help for my book induced depression. Think I’ll steer clear of this one for the time being.

    Definitely agree about children modifying your reading tastes. Before my three sons, the more death and mindless violence the better, but after holding them, changing a million diapers, rocking them to sleep, and sitting up all night taking care of one who was sick, it changed my perspective on what makes something entertaining. Sure, I enjoy grimdark occasionally, even some mindless sword and sorcery, but it has to have some humor or glimmer of hope or personal redemption of a character to have staying power. And if it glorifies mass murder, abuse of children, or anything like that, I either walk away or am harsh in my opinion of it.

  3. Lynn

    I had mixed feelings half way through this and nearly put it down to be honest. It is definitely not a sunshine and rainbows book and I did struggle a little with Baru – because she is so ‘dry’. I liked the start of the book and finding out about her culture but then I went into a black hole when she moved islands. The ending redeemed it for me – even though it is such a punch to the face! I’m not sure that I like Baru, even now, she feels like one of those people who is going to become worse than what’s she’s fighting against, because she is so cold herself.
    Lynn 😀
    Lynn recently posted…Kushiel’s Avatar by Jacqueline Carey, readalong week No.4My Profile