The Monster Baru Cormorant (The Masquerade #2) by Seth Dickinson - Book Review

Write on: Thu, 07 May 2020 by  in Archive Read 2871



'The Traitor Baru Cormorant’ remains one of my favourite books to this day. The intricacy of the characters, the war of motivations, the ruthless machinations of assimilating cultures into an empire, the spectacular writing and, perhaps, the most gut-wrenching end to a fantasy book I’ve ever read. 

The Monster Baru Cormorant’ does not pack the same punch. It is a welterweight son trying to compete with a heavyweight father. A bloated, lethargic, somewhat confused welterweight at that.

There are, of course, many things that Dickinson does get right, such is his skill as a writer. Whilst the roster has changed somewhat, the supporting cast remain engaging, each with their own compelling backstories and reasons for being the way they are. There are a number of POVs throughout, but at no point did I feel as though one was more of a slog to get through than the others. Tau-Indi of the Oriati Mbo is perhaps the strongest. They are used as a window to reveal the newest culture the Empire is attempting to infiltrate. They both appear in flashback form and in the present day, and their faith in people and positivity contrasts starkly with Baru.  

The use of a third gender leads nicely to another major strength of the book. The diversity of culture is huge in scope and ambition. The Oriati Mbo culture contrasts so vibrantly with that of Falcrest, and neither can easily be compared to an existing culture that we might be familiar with. The systematic disassembling of culture was prominent within the first book, and it reappears within the second, only now we have Baru as a spearhead rather than a victim. She uses several of the same tricks that were used in the first, which goes to show just how efficient the Empire is at doing what they do.

However, as this is only a three-star read, there are clearly things that didn’t work. You may notice that my praise, in regards to character, was reserved for those in support of our main protagonist.

That is because Baru does not hold up from the first book. She is no longer the cold, calculating, driven accountant from ‘Traitor’. The reasons behind this are obvious. She is suffering from a deep, personal trauma and reeling with grief and guilt. It is to be expected. 

Unfortunately, these demons don’t aid in the journey of a compelling character, in this instance, given what she was like before. She is now bitter. She borders on creepy at times and the subtlety with which she conducted her business in the first book is no longer there. She is outmanoeuvred throughout to the point where she starts to look incompetent, and that is a trait no main character should possess.

Her motivation is all over the place as well. Her actions from the first book have supposedly gifted her with considerable executive powers, but at no point is it clear what these powers are and how she intends to use them. Instead, she puts herself in considerable peril during several dangerous situations with somewhat vague end goals, relegating herself to the role of renegade adventurer. This is not the type of protagonist I was after in this particular series.

And this ties in with the tone of the overall story. It shifts dramatically. It is no longer a high-stakes, geopolitical, nuanced fantasy. It is now an island hopping, macabre adventure tale with an ending that would not be out of place in the horror section. It suffers from middle book syndrome in that nothing is concluded and that much of what goes on is setup for the (probable) final entry. Again, when placed against a first book which was tied up so masterfully, this book falls short.

In keeping with my boxing analogy, I would say that the series has definitely not been knocked down and out. I fully intend to read the third still, such is my faith in the author. It had such a monumental task in following ‘Traitor’ that I have to give it leeway, and there are enough compelling plot threads to give me hope that ‘The Tyrant Baru Cormorant’ will land. 

I just hope I don’t have to use the towel.

Last modified on Thursday, 16 December 2021 15:52

Mark is an avid reader and writer of fantasy. He enjoys playing poker and finding pound coins down the back of the sofa. His favourite authors are Peter .V. Brett and Robin Hobb. He is currently writing the first in a four-part epic fantasy series and he has an irrational fear of balloons.

You can find him on Twitter @MarkParker01690.