"Masquerade" series (1-3) review
Title: The Masquerade series (1-3)
Author: Seth Dickinson
Subgenre: Political drama, science fiction
2021 Bingo squares:
- The Traitor Baru Cormorant: Debut (hm), Forest, Genre mashup
- The Monster Baru Cormorant: Genre mashup, Chapter titles, Nonbinary character
- The Tyrant Baru Cormorant: Genre mashup, Chapter titles, Nonbinary character, Cat squasher
Recommended if: you want a character-driven story where battles are fought via political maneuvering, economics, and supply chains.
Not recommended if: you want a lot of magic, or high-action, fast-paced battle scenes.
This is the best series I’ve read since Green Bone Saga, and it’s not even close. If that’s enough of an endorsement (and it should be), just go read it without knowing anything else.
The Traitor Baru Cormorant begins with Falcresti ships arriving peacefully at Baru’s home of Taranoke - except they aren’t arriving peacefully. They’re arriving with the intention to conquer using trade as their weapon, and to take over Taranoke by subverting the local currency, building schools so that they can teach their own customs and laws to children, and later on, controlling the distribution of inoculations against their diseases.
Baru will enter one of their schools, and she’ll become an accountant, recognized as one of the most gifted students in the Empire and sent to Aurdwynn to become its Imperial Accountant. Will the Empire succeed in making her its instrument? Does her heart truly still lie with Taranoke? And if so, what is she willing to sacrifice to save her homeland? What does saving her homeland even mean? Does she have a homeland left to save?
The Masquerade series obviously discusses colonialism, but it also discusses themes of identity, sexuality, free will, power, loyalty, and many others. There are legitimate economics lessons contained in the chapters, and Baru wins her battles through paperwork and supply chains (though there are a few actual battles as well). The series is very low magic, and in fact the first novel has almost nothing supernatural to speak of at all, though the second two do expand on the mythology of the world significantly.
Traitor is almost exclusively told from Baru’s third-person limited POV, but in Monster and Tyrant, Dickinson becomes much more experimental in his storytelling. Several additional characters are given POV chapters, with one of them told in the first person, and a few of them occasionally even in the second person. This move opens up the world significantly, showing both the Falcresti Empire and also Baru’s own struggles through other eyes.
Often, series that add new POVs in sequels are unable to pull it off, and I was pretty skeptical when I saw that the Masquerade series was doing this, but I shouldn’t have worried - it executes perfectly. It may take a couple chapters to get pulled into their story, but I promise, Tau-indi in particular is a delight, and every new POV character truly makes the story richer for their addition.
I cannot recommend the Masquerade series enough. It’s just amazing. Absolutely worth reading.