Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

The Masquerade #2

The Monster Baru Cormorant

Rate this book
A breathtaking geopolitical fantasy as fraught as Game of Thrones, The Monster Baru Cormorant is the long-anticipated sequel to Seth Dickinson gut-wrenching debut, The Traitor Baru Cormorant.

Baru Cormormant's world was shattered by the Empire of Masks. To exact her revenge, she has clawed her way up razor-edged rungs of betrayal, sacrifice, and compromise, becoming the very thing she seeks to destroy.

Now she strides in the Masquerade's halls of power. To save the world, she must tear it asunder...and with it, all that remains of her soul.

At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

464 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 30, 2018

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Seth Dickinson

41 books1,499 followers
Since his 2012 debut, Seth's fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, Analog, and nearly every other major science fiction and fantasy market.

He's a lapsed student of social neuroscience, where he studied the role of racial bias in police shootings, and the writer of much of the lore and fictional flavor for Bungie Studios' smash hit Destiny. In his spare time he works on the collaborative space opera Blue Planet: War in Heaven.

THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT is his first novel.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
1,663 (29%)
4 stars
2,270 (39%)
3 stars
1,301 (22%)
2 stars
348 (6%)
1 star
96 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 757 reviews
Profile Image for Mayim de Vries.
577 reviews831 followers
October 10, 2022
Make enough death, and like any other currency it loses its value.”

The promiscuous book-lover that I am, I fall in love with new series quickly and you can find my passionate and awed reviews that sing this love without abandon. However, once the initial infatuation fades away, it takes a lot to keep my love going, lest I move on to some new book-love of my life. If you remember my review for Traitor Baru, you know that I was truly smitten. Sadly, it was a one-book stand. Nothing that could develop into a many-volume relationship.

Rebel accountant Baru Cormorant murdered the love of her life and betrayed almost everybody who considered her an ally in her quest to vanquish an evil empire from within. Now she is elevated to the new heights of power that gives her power and influence on the decision-making processes, the policies, the intrigues of the monster that devoured her homeland and so…

… you think you will read how Baru delves deep into the heart and mind of Masquerade’s power and takes no prisoners, so to speak, in order to kill the empire relying solely on the power of her mind and her knowledge of the money -- you could not be more mistaken…

instead you will be embarrassed to read how the cryptarch Agonist, formerly known as Baru Cormorant, wallows, is paralysed by her own trauma and fears which means putting things off and stumbles around crippled by her naivety and indecisiveness, which puts her in tow, following up on the tide of events and then in the final moment just before doom, saving the hour thanks to being a savant which in the book’s lingo means just a snow-flake with a special capability.

So, forget the ledger of secrets, and if you are at that, forget the secrets altogether. The intrigues in this volume are about as subtle as a hippo in the porcelain store; there is also a new antagonist (so to speak) and a new layer to the world building that has the stink of comforting metaphysics able to account for everything should the need arise. There is nothing of the secret and total power Baru was promised and sacrificed so much to gain, instead she is dancing to other people’s tune, supposed mysteries that are key to blackmail and coercion are swapped over dinner like bad jokes that nobody enjoys, and the superb geopolitical machinations I so admired in the previous instalment are substituted with hazy ideas of magical mbo and trim.

There is only one sequence that shows what Baru is capable of when unleashed and I loved it. The rest of the book is clouded by her ignorance (honestly, even assistants and other random people know more than she does) and thus it is not surprising that in her oblivion, Baru is outmanoeuvred like a child more than once.

The other element I enjoyed, besides the writing style itself, was the recipe of how to destroy a nation: Schools to seduce the young. Banks to issue loans and to put people in debt. Debt as a form of slavery. I look around and I see that Masquerade has already arrived, and although its agents do not wear masks, they are equally faceless.

I guess all this happens because success happened. To the best of my knowledge, Baru Cormorant was meant to be a duology, but due to a favourable reception, has been extended now into four books. It means that the initial design Baru ascending to power in book one and Baru executing the power in book 2 needed to be appropriated in order to accommodate additional volumes. For this reason, Baru is not executing anything, there are new POVs and arcs gaining prominence and the whole intrigue gains an absurdly creepy flavour.

You will have idiotic sentences like: ”Let’s do something. We’re cryptarchs, aren’t we? Let’s conspire.” that are not meant as a comic relief. Like a stone thrown into the Ashen Sea, Baru made ripples and some of those ripples take her by surprise. OK, the majority of those take her by surprise, being frighteningly acute and insightful savant notwithstanding. And so for the better part of the book, she is surprised and worried and grieving and oh, lusting after women. The unbearable lightness of sex would put Milan Kundera to shame (people approach sex as far less a commitment than you’d approach a friendship and give it less consideration than you’d consider taking a loan from a bank; in fact, it is all a bit animalistic).

It might be too harsh, perhaps, to conclude that the Masquerade was praised on the grounds of diversity it brings to the fantasy genre. But diversity for the sake of diversity is a sham, even if it entails things as the lesbian main protagonist, departure from a monogamous, heterosexual societal order and a singular they in the narrative. It all feels a bit disjointed, especially that on the one hand you have engendered children free to choose who they want to be, on the other unequivocally declared Baru who didn’t construct herself a lesbian but was born with the desire to fuck women, as she is fond of saying. And so the prevalent gender fluidity breaks on her preferences which are set in stone. I understand that this is meant to augment the tension between the nature and the construction (or deconstruction) that is culture, but if you have all the true loves homosexual only and all the tough warriors (with inhuman physical prowess, if you ask me) female, frankly speaking, the book reads like propaganda à rebours.

Baru, with her reptilian calm and inhuman detachment that borders on psychopathic, scares me and is not a heroine I could bond with. She is moody, idiosyncratic and freaky as opposed to nerdy (which implies something endearing). As in when asked what she wants to eat and her response is: ”I want to eat a heart…I want a tender deer-heart, cut out raw and still trembling, all its lobes spread out like a butterfly and slathered in cream and simmered over low coals.” Why? why?! How am I supposed to react to something like that? If you think this cover is scary, wait what happens when you read the pages of the book. Pardon my Latin but Baru scares the shit out of me and this happens rarely. In comparison with her, Jorg was like a rescued shelter puppy. Simultaneously, there is something pitiable in her constraints, in her inability to face the past, but it is a dirty pity; demeaning more than empathising.

My problem with Mr Dickinson’s prose is very similar to the recent objections against Laini Taylor, even though the latter is YA, while Masquerade is grim dark dystopian. The book is really beautifully written; no really, the writing is exquisitely beautiful with phrases and whole sentences like little wonders. But aside from the perfect prose, the book holds not enough to carry its own burden and collapses under the weight of wasted potential.

It was supposed to be a dystopia about a perfect meritocracy, plotting, mining secrets out, and wreaking havoc under false pretences. Instead, we have an embarrassing story about as sophisticated as a kitten chasing its own tail. Disappointments heaped upon failed hopes and false promises. Anticipated The Monster Baru Cormorant proved to be a letdown of the year. I cannot recommend the novel, and at this point, I am still debating whether to continue with the series. Daniel Abraham writes much better accountants of dubious morals and so I suggest that instead of putting up with Baru, you’d make acquaintance with Cithrin in The Dagger and the Coin series.

Where it begins:

The Traitor Baru Cormorant ★★★★☆

How it ends:

3. Tyrant Baru Cormorant ☆☆☆☆★
4. Untitled Baru Cormorant who cares?
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,978 followers
November 17, 2018
Remember the Red Wedding scene in GoT?

That sense of horror and disgust and shock and the feeling that everything was NOT going to be all right ever again?

That's how I feel now, having read Monster Baru Cormorant.

Sure, sure, I kinda felt that way at the end of Traitor Baru Cormorant, too, but this is the real deal. The Game is set up and all the pieces are on the board. No side trusts her and yet, no one KNOWS, and yet she still manages to keep everyone doubting. Is Baru with them? Against? Is she fighting and scheming against the Masquerade? For it?

Even she doesn't know. She's betrayed so many people, thinks of herself as a monster, and yet she is still having an issue between wearing a mask for doing the right thing or just doing the right thing because it's right, with no calculation.

It's obviously a journey novel, but she knows all the islands in this fantasy realm. She's the one gaining ever more power. But pushing aside the deeply dark bits, it's more about identity. Being a lesbian, being feared, finding real connections with others, and making absolutely impossible decisions... regularly.

The novel juggles all of it brilliantly, and more. The islands and cultures are amazing. The depth of worldbuilding is as good or better than almost any Fantasy novel I've read. And the author doesn't stint when it comes to economics, politics, science, medicine, and even the mythological ramifications of a world rich with uranium (and how it poisons the people here).

Every character is smart. Almost everyone wears a mask between official beliefs and keeping an open mind, between faith and mistrust. But best of all, the journey Hits Hard. *shiver*

Well worth the wait.
Profile Image for Jenia.
413 reviews101 followers
October 17, 2018
This is a review of book #2 in the Masquerade Series, so there's spoilers for the first book. If you’re thinking of getting into the series, check out my review of book #1, The Traitor Baru Cormorant ! I received an ARC of this book from the publishing company Tor in exchange for a fair and honest review.

The Monster Baru Cormorant was one of my most anticipated sequels and *happy sigh* it was fucking brilliant.

The sequel picks up exactly where the first book finished, giving us another glimpse at Baru and Tain Hu's last moments together. Now Baru has ascended to a new level of power, and has been entrusted with a correspondingly even more difficult task. She is to help direct the looming conflict between the Masquerade Empire and the sprawling Oriati Mbo. To do so, she and several other agents of the Empire are sent on an expedition to learn the secrets that have kept the Oriati happy and prosperous for a thousand years. Of course, Baru has her own plans for the Empire... and must deal with the fallout from her previous manipulations.

In a word, this book is bigger. We now get multiple POVs: mostly Baru yes, but also people who hate her or are unsure of her. There's another storyline woven in as flashback interludes, following the Oriati Federal Prince Tau-indi as they navigate the lead-up to the previous war between the Masquerade and the Oriati Mbo. In general, we see more of the world, as Baru and the other characters travel around (primarily the outskirts of) the Masquerade Empire, and we learn more of the world's history and cultures.

This leads to the questions asked being bigger too. Traitor explores what one person might, or could, or must do to overthrow an empire, and whether that cost is worth it. Monster continues the same line of questioning with: "Okay, but say you do overthrow the empire... have you thought about what then?" Burning it all down is a fun goal, but there's no way to stuff globalisation back in the box. Presuming the goal is not merely blind rage and destruction of all civilisation (and of course with Baru, that's a big presumption)... what then?

The increasing scope means the book is packed very dense. Sequels are always a little complicated; while Traitor could function as a stand-alone, Monster is very clearly setting up the dominoes for later. Much of the book consists of worldbuilding, introducing us (and Baru herself!) to territories and factions outside Taranoke and Aurdwynn. There's a lot of information to keep track of: the Masquerade colonies' culture before colonisation; the Masquerade colonies' culture after; the various political factions within the Masquerade (most importantly the navy); past, fallen civilisations such as the Tu Maia and the Jellyfish Eaters; the Oriati federations' history and numerous cultures; other world players, such as the Stakhieczi's Necessary King... It feels overwhelming sometimes.

On the other hand, I would happily read a whole "non-fiction" history book about Baru's world. (And yes, among my co-bloggers I'm known for having a virulent hatred of worldbuilding for the sake of worldbuilding, so... I guess this is the greatest compliment I could offer a fantasy book.) I think this is because the peoples in Baru's world are clearly influenced by non-European cultures, e.g. the Oriati having three genders or the Segu having a matriarchy, which makes everything feel fresh and intriguing. I really enjoyed having to puzzle through what is actually truth and what's propaganda against the various cultures as well. As with the first book, Dickinson refuses to make any culture wholly good or bad, e.g. terrifying eugenics is lauded inside the Masquerade, infanticide is common outside it. The scope also makes the world feel that much more convincing and similar to ours, where a project like "dismantle colonialism" could not be completed by snapping one's fingers. And while I didn't cry at Monster like I did at Traitor, it did fill me with a horrible existential dread and despair at the state of our own world so, y'know, points to the book.

Of course, Baru remains the captivating, complex centre of it all. To put it politely, she is not unaffected by the events of book one. To put it less politely... she's a fucking mess. This is maybe a bit disappointing when compared to Traitor: she's less in command, and she doesn't really have the chance to show off her abilities like she did in Aurdwynn. On the other hand, it humanises her in an important way. The book also starts probing more harshly into where Baru ends and where the Empire, which has been molding her since a young age, begins. To her distress, Baru herself isn't sure. (By the way, basically none of the characters trust Baru now, even when she's actually telling the truth, and it's kind of darkly hilarious.)

The other characters are interesting too. Some old faces reappear and get their own POV, such as Aminata, Baru's sailor friend. She's bitter at her new job and wonders what the hell all these rumours about her old friend Baru are about. Tain Hu remains an overwhelmingly strong presence in the book as well, which I really appreciated. Of the new characters, the most intriguing is Tau-indi, who is our window into the culture of the Oriati. The Oriati people believe in 'trim', the art of connectedness, and that relationships with others have a material effect on the world. (The beauty of this being a fantasy book is, of course, that the reader has no idea for sure if this is a belief system or simple fact.) Tau's unrelentingly, bluntly human-oriented approach makes a fun contrast to Baru's cold logic.

Finally, in regard to the writing, I'm not sure what to say that hasn't been said for book one already. It remains immaculate. Dickinson has a way of making the large feel large, of making huge declarations seem just as bone-chillingly powerful as they are meant to be. I'm also impressed by how well the fantasy words flow off the tongue, both the names (Xate Yawa, the Llosydane Islands, the Cancrioth) and little bits of the old tongues (ayamma, ayamma, a ut li-en). Thankfully, Dickinson also inserts a decent amount of little humorous and human moments into the book, which keeps it from being an exercise in utter bleakness. Shout out especially to the cryptarch Apparitor, who's Done With Everyone's Shit.

Ultimately, I think Monster is a sequel that doesn't go in the direction most people would expect. It diminishes the importance of Baru, slows down the pacing, and introduces a heap of new difficulties. One particular crucial plotline/worldbuilding aspect seems to come out of the blue (well, it doesn't if you read Traitor very, very carefully). At the same time, I found this direction fascinating and exciting. I absolutely loved The Monster Baru Cormorant, and I can't wait to see where book 3 takes us.

I recommend this book for:

- Fans of political fantasy
- Fans of complex worldbuilding
- People tired of the "standard Western European fantasy setting"
- People who like anti-hero main characters
- Fans of fantasy books with little to no magic
- Particularly fans of fantasy books where you're not sure if there's little or no magic
- People looking for LGBT protagonists
- People who've had enough of 2018 and are ready to start planning the World Revolution, but would like to see all the possible issues with said Revolution explored before they start sharpening the guillotine
- People who loved The Traitor Baru Cormorant! What are you waiting for, let's go!
Profile Image for Mogsy (MMOGC).
2,034 reviews2,605 followers
January 28, 2019
2 of 5 stars at The BiblioSanctum https://bibliosanctum.com/2019/01/28/...

Some stories just don’t need sequels. Imagine watching Humphrey Bogart bid his heartbreakingly romantic farewell to Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac at the end of Casablanca, only to follow him to a bar afterwards to hear him whine pathetically for hours on end about second-guessing his sacrifice and beating himself up over making the worst mistake of his life. Well, that would rob all the magic out of a classic ending, wouldn’t it?

This, in a nutshell, was pretty much how I felt about The Monster Baru Cormorant. Keep in mind that its predecessor, The Traitor Baru Cormorant, was one of my favorite books in the year I read it, and it had one of the most tragic yet exquisitely poignant and tear-jerkingly beautiful endings I’ve ever read.

And then this book had to go and ruin it all for me.

But first, lest it needs to be stated explicitly, stop reading this review NOW if you have not read the first book. There WILL be spoilers for it, especially the ending, which I will be talking about, A LOT.

Monster picks up almost immediately after Traitor, at the end of which I was left speechless when imperial accountant Baru Cormorant watched the Masquerade execute the love of her life—an execution order she herself had signed. But having glimpsed into the inner workings of Baru’s mind, I knew why she had done it. Every action, every decision was carefully measured and balanced, with an eye towards final results. Even Tain Hu, the rebel duchess who came into our protagonist’s life and thawed her cold, calculating heart had, in her final moments, reconciled herself to the fact that things had to play out the way they did. It was, after all, what made the ending of the first book so incredibly damned special. Mind you, I was completely gutted, but I understood.

Which, unfortunately, is more than I could say for this sequel. The steady and purposeful Baru I knew had been replaced with an insipid, wishy-washy milksop wallowing in her self-pity. The irony, of course, is that I would have given anything to see more of this softer side of our protagonist in the first book, but as they say, be careful what you wish for, because this was nothing like what I had in mind. While I certainly did not begrudge Baru for her regrets over Tain Hu, I did become angrier at her the more she dwelled on her part in the execution. Well, that was what you wanted, wasn’t it? Least you can do is own it, damn you.

So, needless to say, this book and I got off to a rough start. But things did not get better. The series seems to have lost its direction, or has simply gotten too big for itself, because now it just feels like we’re doing things for the sake of doing them. At times, some of the things that came out of the Baru’s mouth were so random and outlandish, I did wonder if they were thrown in just for the shock factor. Diversity also seemed forced, included not because it actually mattered, but compulsory-like, as if the author felt that it was expected of him. The story itself was contrived, not to mention the sheer amount of bloat in the plot which was all over the place. Quite honestly, given how all the pieces came together so perfectly at the end of the first book, the absolute confusion and lack of direction in this sequel came as quite the shock.

Bottom line? I can’t believe what I’m about to say but here it goes: I wish I never read this book. I wish I had kept my memories of The Traitor Baru Cormorant intact, untarnished by the knowledge of everything that came after. And this is coming from someone who wept tears of pure emotion at the end of the first book. Really, the only saving grace of this sequel is Seth Dickinson’s gorgeous writing, which is as irresistibly lush and beguiling as I remember it. Despite my disastrous time with The Monster Baru Cormorant, I will still definitely seek out more from him should he start on any new projects, but no more from this series. This book broke my heart all over again but this time for very different reasons, and I just don’t know if I can take any more.
Profile Image for Greg R.
24 reviews8 followers
April 18, 2021
The Traitor Baru Cormorant was one of my favorite books. I was really looking forward to its sequel - which would, doubtless, be thick with geopolitical intrigue and betrayal, perhaps a dash of economics, all in the twin names of vengeance and ambition. She would enact world-shaking plots and leave others floundering in her wake.

What I got is this piece of crap. Goodbye intrigue, hello adventure stories. Imagine you were reading A Song of Ice and Fire and Tyrion Lanister suddenly decided to drop all this scheming nonsene and go in search of the legendary panjandrums of Ashai.

If you read Traitor and Monster back-to-back (which I did), you’ll find the shift in tone jarring. In the first book, emotions are buried deep and seldom revealed directly. Baru’s own identity is so disjointed that she barely reveals it to herself. To give one example, Baru’s homosexuality was buried so deep in the first book Baru only spelled it out - in her own thoughts - once or twice.

In Monster, everything is stupidly obvious and everyone is stupidly direct. Monster's Baru screams her homosexuality - and everything else - at anyone would would listen.

The cryptarchs from the first book, and many other characters, have changed utterly to fit this new tone. In the first book, they were all mysterious puppet masters, their motives so opaque as to be incomprehensible, their emotions never revealed. Those that appear in Monster are almost simple-minded, their motives and emotions clear as day. These are the people who stand behind the faceless throne, who’ve betrayed everything they ever loved, who have power beyond most people’s wildest dreams. One of them just acts like a sulky teenager.

In the epilogue of the first book, Baru wrote several letters that seemed to be setting the tone for the next installment, and her role as one of the cryptarchs. Well, they turn out to be totally irrelevant if not entirely misguided. It turns out that, her first “assignment” as one of the shadowy puppet masters who sit behind the faceless throne, is to go on an adventure. They call it a “fact finding mission,” but she’s basically searching for a bunch of wizards. With a bunch of other shadowy puppet masters as companions. Clearly, an apt conclusion to the scheming she excelled in in the previous book.

I kind of assumed, apparently incorrectly, that being a cryptarch means you get other people to do stuff like that for you. That you focus your entire attention on commanding the empire that’s under your control, buying favors and allegiances, weaving nets of intrigue, and so on. Nope. It’s all about going on wild goose chases.

Now, because Baru is off in some remote corner of the world, all of her power as a cryptarch is basically non-existent. So everything she fought to get in the previous book is completely worthless in this one. It’s just incomprehensible - why was she sent on this journey? And more importantly, why did she agree to go?

I'm sure Monster has some redeeming qualities somewhere, but I felt so betrayed I could appreciate any of it.
Profile Image for elaine.
140 reviews86 followers
May 30, 2023
baru cormorant raises the breathtaking question of what if u were severely ill on a psychological and spiritual level and also hubristically shortsighted with a self-destructive god complex that makes u complicit in the violence u have bartered away your life and humanity to end AND u got mad pussy ???
Profile Image for Charlotte Kersten.
Author 3 books433 followers
April 16, 2022
“She accepts the world as it is and the world accepts her thus. She is not mastered. What is done to her cannot confine what she will do.”

So What’s It About?

Baru Cormormant's world was shattered by the Empire of Masks. To exact her revenge, she has clawed her way up razor-edged rungs of betrayal, sacrifice, and compromise, becoming the very thing she seeks to destroy.

Now she strides in the Masquerade's halls of power. To save the world, she must tear it asunder...and with it, all that remains of her soul.

What I Thought

Every time I open up my Google Doc of book review notes, I see that my next book to review is The Monster Baru Cormorant. I get overwhelmed when I think about trying to review it and then I close the Google Doc and do something else. Well, I now have a backlog of 20 books to review, so I think it’s time to just do the best I can here.

I don’t envy the task that Seth Dickinson faced in writing a sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant. After you write…well, something like that, expectations are inevitably going to be high. I’d heard plenty of people say that this book was a massive disappointment in comparison to the rest of the series, and I was eager to find out if Monster was really a step down or not. In short, I can understand why some would feel that way, but I personally enjoyed it more than the first book.

My reasons for this are, of course, entirely subjective, and I can understand why others wouldn’t resonate with them. I personally struggled with the amount of economic scheming that happened in the first book, and that is present to a much smaller extent here. There were also lots of dukes and duchesses to keep track of in Traitor, and my personal feeling was that most were not characterized clearly enough to stand apart from one another. In contrast, I found the new characters introduced here to be welcome additions and thought that the characters who were present in the first book are all fleshed out well as we get to know them better here.

Most people’s complaints about Monster seem to be about Baru herself - she is an absolute wreck who spends most of her time self-medicating, thinking self-loathing thoughts and getting manipulated. It’s a stark contrast from the brilliant savant Baru from the first book, and it seems that many readers dislike the direction her character took. This was not a problem for me at all, because I agree with Dickinson’s decision that Baru could not walk away unscathed from her betrayal at the end of the first book. She spent the entirety of that book convincing herself to do what she did, and the fact that she is destroyed by the consequences seems only natural to me. I might compare Baru’s spiral here to what I think R.F. Kuang was attempting with Rin in The Dragon Republic compared to The Poppy War, but while I found Rin’s characterization to be clumsy (and therefore I felt the irritation reading The Dragon Republic that a lot of people seem to feel reading this book), Baru’s struggle was written with a great deal of care and rang very true to me - and as I’ve read the next book (20 book backlog, remember!), I can say that her overall journey rings all the truer for this period of darkness.

In particular, one of the biggest themes of Baru’s thoughts and the book as a whole is the idea of suffering and sacrifice as reasons for doing bad things. Baru tells herself that suffering - her own and that of others - is a good thing not only because of the terrible thing she’s done but also because of the sunk cost fallacy - “to stop now would be to betray those lives she’d already spent…and the more lives she spent, the more reason she had to sacrifice even more.” The book is so good at depicting this trap of a mindset, worn into Baru by her education by Farrier and everything she has done for her people.

Another significant theme is that of goodness and human connectedness as rebellion, in contrast with Baru’s conviction that ends justify the means. This is primarily present through the new philosophy of trim and the character Tau-indi, who I really liked. I will say, though, that while I really liked them as a character, the flashback sections with them and their friends were my least favorite part of the book.

The book also spends time mulling over the contradictions inherent to attempts at simple human categorization in the name of Falcrest’s science. There are lots of assumptions about what it means to be masculine or feminine in different cultures, and we see how these ideas sometimes clash. Much like our own world’s “racial sciences,” Falcrest’s Incrasticism attributes different characteristics to different races and subcategories, and we see characters like Baru question aspects of their behavior and identity based on that.

One of the most fascinating parts of the book’s depiction of colonialism is Falcrest’s ideological debate over whether the “lesser” races are able to transcend their births to be shaped into the forms that Falcrest wants of them. It’s the classic nature over nurture debate applied, just as it was and is in our world, to debating the equality of human beings and perpetuating racism and imperialism. Farrier and Corrinde embody polar opposite sides of the debate, and one of my favorite touches was Farrier’s theory about giraffes and neck stretching, which is actually very similar to some real-world theories about species development that came before the theory of evolution was developed.

There are so many other wonderful touches that left me sitting back, delighted at just how inventive the author and book’s world are - everything from Ascend deconditioning herself to the sheer breadth and depth of cultures and world history and the horrifying route that the idea of natural uranium took in Dickinson’s mind. I also absolutely love the writing, which is so smart and expressive in a very unique way, and there are also many moments that are incredibly funny. I understand the criticisms I’ve read that say the book feels messier and less tightly-plotted overall, but there is just so much interesting stuff going on that it didn’t bother me too much.
Profile Image for Katie.
303 reviews61 followers
June 18, 2018
This book has certainly been one of my most hyped of 2018. Has it lived up to the hype? For me, absolutely. However, I can see some people being disappointed by it. Since this book won’t be out for a while, I don’t want to reveal too much. As such, the format of this review will be a little different than what I usually write.

Plot: Monster starts right where Traitor ends, and we get another glimpse of That Scene with more insight. From there on, Baru begins to learn her new powers as a cryptarch, as well as the weight it comes with. Eventually, she is tasked with the prevention, or initiation, of the second Armada War. We are also introduced to fellow her cryptarchs. Southeast of Aurdwynn, Lieutenant Commander Aminata isiSegu, Baru’s navy friend from Taranoke, is rather unhappy with her current position. She’s soon given a mission that leads her right back into Baru’s path. Back in Aurdwynn, Province Admiral Juris Ormsment is cleaning up messes in Treatymont and vows revenge against Baru for the massacre at Welthony. Finally, 25 years before the current storyline on Prince Hill, we meet thirteen-year-old Tau-indi, Federal Prince of the Oriata Mbo. With each faction and members within each faction pursuing different objectives, the story begins.

Pacing: The pacing of Monster is slow and is the part I think most readers will be turned off by. Dickinson takes his time introducing characters, giving the reader insight into their motivations, and building the world they live in. While this allows for very thorough world building and character development, the trade-off is a very slow book. Roughly the first 130 pages are pure exposition, but the first clash of factions kicks off the plot with a bang. Afterward, there are long lulls between bits of action, filled with character studies, dialog, introspection, and worldbuilding. The most important thing to highlight here is that while I found the story slow, I never found it dull.

Characters: The world of Monster is not a happy one, and the characters in the book reflect that. Each character carries a lot of baggage, and given the introspective nature of the narration, a fair amount of time is spent on it. Baru is still Baru, power-hungry as ever. After the ending of Traitor, she is more hesitant and more closed than before. She’s also notably easier to anger than I remember in Traitor. However, her thirst for knowledge remains and shows visible excitement over new information. Sadly, this book didn’t showcase her financial skills as much as I would have liked, and I hope we see more in the next book.

Baru aside, my favorite character had to be Apparitor. He has a charming, rogue-ish personality (belying further suffering) that caught me from the beginning. Sadly, we get only the skeleton of his backstory. I would like to see more in the future. I found both him and his attendant Iraji very sympathetic and likable. All the characters I would wish happiness for, it would be those two.

There are seven POVs overall, though we mostly get Baru’s perspective. Dickinson does a really good job keeping each voice distinct, and even though each character is angsty, they’re all angsty in different ways. Each character felt like their own distinct, fully-fleshed character. I think that while the total character count is smaller than Traitor, they’re more diverse and spread out.

Writing: Dickinson’s prose is beautiful, as usual. Between lush worldbuilding description and emotional introspection, I experienced a rollercoaster of emotion while reading this book. I will say, I would recommend reading with a dictionary in hand. Dickinson has a large vocabulary and isn’t afraid to use it, but that left me often having to google words to get the full context. In some ways, Monster could be SAT vocab prep in fiction form. Dickinson plays with formatting to signify certain thoughts, and I didn’t realize the significance behind it until embarrassingly late.

World Building: The worldbuilding of Monster greatly expands the world introduced in Traitor. We’re given more details of Falcrest, the Stakhieczi, and the Oriati Mbo, with a focus on the Oriati Mbo. I was really astounded by how much thought had to go into creating each one of groups. The Oriati Mbo are such are a rich and complex culture, and as long as this book is, I wish I could learn more about their history. It was also nice to see so many different cultures with non-western inspirations. For those looking for a book with a non-western setting, this one has several.

I also have to commend Dickison for his exploration of gender constructs and gender roles. We see patriarchal societies, matriarchal societies, and those in-between, all very realistically portrayed. The Oriati Mbo have three genders, and we have a character who is this third gender and I was so incredibly happy to see that they used the singular they. This is the first book I’ve read that’s done this.

Overall, the worldbuilding is one of the strongest points of this series, and it’s definitely worth a re-read just to catch missed details. I was too excited about getting a copy of Monster to re-read Traitor, so there were events and characters I’d forgotten. My copy sadly did not come with a map, which would have been incredibly useful. I believe that the published version will have one. I can see where people would dislike this book because of the slow pacing, but I personally enjoyed the extra time spent in the characters’ heads.

A worthy sequel to Traitor


It's done. I've finished it. There's a lot to unpack here but overall it was great.

4.5 stars

Review to come when I can think more clearly.
Profile Image for Umairah (Sereadipity).
212 reviews108 followers
February 17, 2020
Thank you to Tor for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

The Monster (the sequel to The Traitor) was another sprawling geopolitical fantasy full of twists and scheming. It wasn't as mind-shatteringly brilliant for me as the first book but it was still very intriguing and well worth reading.

Plot: 4/5
Characters: 4.5/5
Writing: 5/5

This book started exactly where the previous one ended. We met the main character Baru again and got more insight into her motivations. Then the story took a wildly unpredictable turn involving a quest for immortality, new characters, new points of view and general chaos (in a good way). The Traitor focused on Baru's machinations to gain power and destroy the empire from within but The Monster was bigger than that. Baru had the power now and she using it to achieve her goal whilst trying to outmanoeuvre the manipulations of everyone else.

Baru's cool, indifferent façade shattered away and we got to see her more vulnerable than ever before. For much of the book she was completely lost, reeling from grief and feeling horror at the destructive consequences of her actions- but only after she'd done them. She didn't know how to handle the moral cost of taking down an empire. She knew what she wanted to achieve and told herself that she didn't care about whoever ended up as collateral. It was hard to tell if she truly thought her actions were for the greater good or if she saw herself as a monster, just like everyone else. The Empire had nothing to hold over her and therefore found her terrifying- and rightly so. But as her control over herself and her situation slipped it became increasingly difficult to tell if she was the puppeteer or the puppet.

I think the most impressive aspect of this book was how much it expanded on its world. We are told all about the federation of Oriati Mbo which had completely different politics, beliefs and culture to the Empire of Masks. However, all the new variables added to the story made the plot go a little out of control as if it was frantically trying to arrange everything for the next book.

This series is unlike anything I've ever read before. It's so unashamedly brutal, daring and clever and in its own odd way, it works. Overall, The Monster was a gripping read and although some parts felt too outlandish and unnecessary I still have high hopes for the next book in the series.
Profile Image for Thomas Stacey.
189 reviews32 followers
March 23, 2019
I don’t think I’ve ever been so disappointed in a book in my entire life. When compared to the masterpiece that was ‘Traitor’, this instalment falls woefully short.

Baru has become a open book, telling the world and his wife all her secret desires and plans, all while remaining a “deep cover” agent. And her voice has changed. Trust me, try reading the last 20 pages of ‘Traitor’ before this and I promise you you will find it jarring.

If you enjoyed all of the politics, scheming and betrayals of book 1, then too bad. Book 2 is an adventure story, only without all that much excitement. Why Baru would feel the need to put herself at risk when she has the resources of a vast empire at her disposal is beyond me.

Don’t expect any resolution at the end either. Unlike ‘Traitor’ this book ends on a cliffhanger with none of its plot points resolved. Hope there’s not another 3 year wait!

Despite all of my disappointments, I still intend to read book 3 when it’s released, mainly based on the strength of book 1, but also because there’s still a lot of potential here. My faith has been badly shaken though.

We have a release date! 30 October 2018. I’ve been waiting nearly 3 years for this. Get preordering folks.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,093 reviews2,958 followers
December 24, 2022
4.0 stars
I am so happy to be finally catching up on this series. I loved book one so I should not have let so much time to continue on. If you love book one, then you will undoubtedly love book two. The character develops continues to be one of the best aspects of this book. I love the complexity of Baru's character as well as the supporting cast. Once again this book is primarily political maneuvering rather than action packed. This is the kind of fantasy that I prefer.

I would highly recommend this series to anyone who loves smart political fantasy with moral gray characters.
Profile Image for Gary.
442 reviews187 followers
May 17, 2019
[SPOILERS if you haven't read the first book]

The start of Seth Dickinson’s sequel to The Traitor Baru Cormorant backtracks a little, relating moments just prior to Tain Hu’s execution, as Baru fastens her chains and whispers in her ear before leading her down to the bluff where the waves will crush her against stone. That the two lovers share an intimate moment in plain view of witnesses without breaking their cover serves as both a reminder of the shocking events that transpired at the end of Traitor (as if anyone could forget) and of the new normal for readers. Now entrenched as a cryptarch in the Masquerade, Baru still has her secrets from the empire of masks but she can’t hide from us anymore.
The specter of Tain Hu’s death haunts Baru throughout The Monster Baru Cormorant. While her betrayal of Aurdwynn moves her closer to her goal—the destruction of the Masquerade—the loss of her lover at her own hands creates a split in Baru, where she must weigh her desire for revenge against the emotional cost of carrying it out. Her ambition drove her when she started, then quashed, the rebellion on Aurdwynn. Now entrenched in the imperial capital city of Falcrest, Baru finds herself amidst a dizzyingly complex and layered political guessing game with countless enemies looking to expose her secrets. Her mentor, the cryptarch Cairdine Farrier, deposits her right into the middle of a conflict with their mysterious neighbor to the south, the Oriati Mbo. Baru’s journey takes her on a collision course with old friends, vengeful military commanders, and a unique culture that stands in sharp contrast to the Masquerade.
Like its predecessor, The Monster Baru Cormorant has a dense and purposely convoluted plot, though you can add temporal and perspective shifts to all the thumbing through reports and notes and accounting ledgers this time around. If this kind of storytelling wonkiness didn’t put you off in the first book, you should have no problem adjusting to the heightened, brutal swirl of intrigue this time around. The first novel’s greatest strengths—its emotional core and its expansive world-building—remain intact.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Tor Books for the opportunity to read this ARC.
Profile Image for Andris.
332 reviews57 followers
February 24, 2019
The best world building I have ever read. A Masterpiece. Lets hope that the third book will come quicker than in three years.
Profile Image for Lindsay.
1,264 reviews222 followers
December 5, 2018
Before you read this book you should read this: Seth Dickinson's notes on what you need to know from the first book before reading this one. The first book came out several years ago and was extremely dense. The second picks up straight afterwards and is at least as dense, and not only assumes you remember the first in high detail, but that you've identified the things that the author wants to carry forward in this novel as important.

Baru Cormorant has succeeded in her bid for power. She is now one of the Masquerade's cryptarchs and because of her heartbreaking actions at the end of the first novel, is one of the few ever to take that role without a binding of hostages. Or is she? And it becomes increasingly apparent that she may be wholly a creation of someone else anyway. The cryptarchs are moving towards a confrontation with the huge country to the south of Falcrest, the Oriati Mbo, and desperately seek the hidden powers that have shepherded that empire through it's longevity. Baru Cormorant's first mission as a cryptarch is part of an expedition there to discover them, but her status as unbound leaves her as a target for the other cryptarchs.

Did I mention dense? In this one we get multiple other points of view and multiple other time periods, often jumping backwards and forwards and between characters with few clues as to what's happening. Coupled with the long time since I'd read the first book, the whole experience of this book for me was through a bit of fog of confusion. It does come together, and maintains enough interesting stuff that even if you don't necessarily remember the detail of what you'd read before, there's enough their to make you want to continue engaging.

The series as a whole is a fascinating exercise in almost anthropological science fiction set in a secondary fantasy world, and watching all these alternate-but-real-feeling cultures clash is definitely an experience. It's just that there's so much here. Ambitious, and perhaps a little beyond the ability of the author to make very readable, or at least in my subjective experience.
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
362 reviews195 followers
November 5, 2018
Thanks to Tor and Netgalley for providing the ARC in exchange for an honest review. Quotes provided may change in the final vesion.

For me, this has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2018. I couldn’t wait to return to the world and see where the story takes Baru next, I pre-ordered in case I wouldn’t get the ARC, and when I did, I was almost wary of reading it, anticipating the emotional punch. The enthusiasm from bloggers who got it earlier was contagious. Sadly, while it was good, it didn’t quite live up to its hype.

Who says you have a duty to a nation? Who says you cannot reject an unjust duty? Who says you can decide which evil is small enough to tolerate, and which is too great to allow? Who says you should allow anyone to hold such power over you, the power to use your work for purposes you do not understand?

The prose and the characters are, as in the first book, fantastic. I highlighted a lot. Baru is still as ambitious as ever, but deeply messed up from the Empire’s training and the events of the previous book, not trusted by anyone, conflicted and unsure what the right thing is. She has a lot of feelings and no idea what to do with them. There are sections from the POV of different characters that highlight just how much of an unreliable narrator she is, and each of them is as complex in their motives as she. My favourite would probably be Tau-Indi, an Oriati laman (non-binary person) who is Baru’s polar opposite - they are a strong believer in human connection and truth rather than scheming and lies, and immensely likable because of it.

Baru thought it very important that she care anyway: for if she lost that, the ability to care for a stranger, what human credential did she have left?

Some worldbuilding developments are rather unexpected, but not necessarily in a bad way. I also did not reread the first book, so while I did remember broad strokes well enough, any subtle foreshadowing was likely missed. There is a stronger horror undercurrent (though I can’t specify in what way without spoiling) and the world is expanded by a lot, introducing us to many other cultures. They are all flawed, all interesting, all fresh, and all feel very authentic. I hope the hardcover will include a map. Again, I liked the Oriati the most because of the contrast they provide to Falcrest (eugenics give me the creeps…), but fellow fans of cultural worldbuilding with a side of social commentary will find plenty to enjoy. The magic remains ambigous to nonexistent. Any strange things that happen can be explained in a non-supernatural way and only time will tell which way it leans. If.

There was, however, one problem that made the book a bit of a disappointment: it has a pretty bad case of middle book syndrome. When I picked it up, I ended up reading a few chapters, but as soon as I put it down I had little desire to pick it up again. It took me over two weeks to get through it where I would be perfectly capable of reading it in a day or two. There’s a lot of travelling around, visiting new places, trying to solve a mystery, political scheming, lots of Baru angst…but no coherence. It gets a bit stale. There’s no strong sense of the plot going anywhere for most of the book and the pacing isn’t particularly good. It’s all set-up, and compared to the first book, it pales. And I’m normally pretty good with slow books.

Will continue the series? Yes. There’s still plenty of potential, the writing is solid. Still, I can’t help but be let down a bit.

Enjoyment: 3/5
Execution: 3.5/5

Recommended to: political fantasy fans, those looking for original settings and representation, worldbuilding enthusiasts, those looking for books with little to no magic
Not recommended to: those who hate unreliable narrator, fans of fast-paced books

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
Want to read
October 1, 2018
I was just approved for this book on NetGalley, YAY! But I haven't read the first book yet, oops. It's been sitting on my bookshelf for about a year now. This sequel is being published at the end of October, so I guess I'd better get going on The Traitor Baru Cormorant...
Profile Image for Lata.
3,614 reviews192 followers
December 22, 2018
I confess, I wasn't particularly clear on the geography of Baru's world or the political system in Aurdwynn in book 1, and it turns out I kind of needed to be for this book. The repercussions of Baru's stint on Aurdwynn are explored in this book, as well as the geopolitical situation of the lands under the Masquerade and others still independent.
I struggled with remembering who was who from book one, though I loved the music of all the names. That said, I still enjoyed this fairly long exploration of Baru's grief and her continued using of others as she progressed with her plan to destroy the Masquerade. Seth Dickinson's world and its various complex peoples and their cultures impressed me again, even while I felt somewhat at sea with the motivations and alliances in play in this book. And Baru remains as complicated, frustrating, difficult, and ethically ambiguous as ever.
Profile Image for Jessy (OCD Anonymous).
68 reviews34 followers
November 15, 2018
This book sucked. Wow.

Or maybe I just read it in an uninspiring environment.

When you have nothing to do at your sterile, completely silent, slightly oppressive work place... Maybe picking up Baru Cormorant isn't the BEST idea you could have. But still.
I expected to be transported. Awed. Horrified. Reluctantly impressed.
Instead I was just bogged down by political manoeuvres that were so dense and so baselessly convoluted that I couldn't be brought to care about them.

I think what made me appreciate the politicking in The Traitor Baru Cormorant was the way it grew with the plot. We got to see Baru from this young, clever, slightly lost but definitely searching for something more girl to this jaded, angst-ridden, bitter, confused, lonely but incredibly brilliant young woman. And we understood the undercurrents of the power struggles, we were invested in the motives, we were holding our breath for the results, we felt the ache of Baru's choices, we reveled in the depth of her victories and that ending... OMG. THAT ENDING (!!!!!) It wrecked us.

But there was no such emotional steamroller in this book. The most memorable thing for me was how long it was. That's it. I kept on thinking, "Wait. I'm not yet done???"
And maybe also Tau-indi. Tau-indi was memorable. Tau-indi's interludes made this book for me.

But I did persevere through all 500 pages. So I guess that says something for the book. And it had a few very quotable lines. Which I enjoyed.
And just to end this review on a positive note, I'll leave you with one:

"When you are disemboweled in battle, you tie your guts up tight, and you keep fighting. Later the wound can kill you. Once you've won."
Profile Image for Kathy Shin.
151 reviews118 followers
January 9, 2019
As the long-awaited sequel to Traitor Baru Cormorant, Monster was one of my two most anticipated releases of 2018 and I can safely say that it did not disappoint.

There are few things to keep in mind when diving into Monster.

One: this isn't a book that you can power through in one or two sittings. It's a dense, slow-paced story stuffed to the brim with intricate character work and social sciences.

Two: this is an entirely different beast to the first book. Traitor Baru Cormorant was very much an origin story for Baru. I'd almost call it an extended prologue--a story that needed to be told in order for the main story to progress. It was about setting up the pieces on a game board. Or no--not even that. It was about taking chunks of wood and whittling them into piece-like shapes.

Monster is about setting them on the board and saying, "Okay, let's get moving."

And boy, do they ever move.

Monster expands our view hundredfold, focusing not only on Baru but also her enemies and her maybe-allies. Dickinson makes it clear that this isn't just a Baru story anymore. There are other players on the board and each come with their own motivations and their visions for the endgame. And make no mistake, they will each sacrifice what it takes to get there.

Every one of these characters (it feels weird calling them "side" characters) are complex and interesting and so distinct. I just can't get enough of Dickinson's ability for compact character building. Even the ones that appear on page for a short amount of time leave such crisp and deep impressions. And that's a seriously hard thing to do.

As with Traitor, the female characters really shine in this one. These are women of powerful positions. Women of ambition and calculation. Women who have known betrayal and are more than willing to deal it out in turn.

And then there's the Apparitor who is hand-down the best side character in the book. He's refreshingly blunt and caustic--his insults giving Scott Lynch a run for his money--and the snipey banter between him and Baru is an absolute treat and a much-needed reprieve from all the doom and gloom (if nothing else, I want these two to become friends).

The plot picks up immediately after the ending of Traitor and we now turn our eyes southward to Oriati Mbo, the thousand year old communal nation that has repelled countless attempts of subjugation and kept its citizens content. Naturally, the Empire wants to know their secrets.

So, here's an interesting thing. Book 1 established the Empire as this unmovable, all-powerful force. Monster, however, introduces tension within the Empire (specifically, between the navy and the parliament) that, with the right or wrong force, can create cracks in their system. They seem less like a faceless evil and more like a nation with its fair share of weak points.

So while Book 1 was very much an Us VS Them (at least, on the surface), Book 2 isn't so clear cut. It doesn't help that it gives you a lot of characters from the Empire that you can sympathize with, like the Apparitor and his lover and Baru's friend Aminata.

So the water starts getting really muddy, which I love. Which endgame do we, as readers, root for here? The burning of the world through an all-out war as Baru claims she wants? But look at what Baru's done. Look at what she plans on doing in the future. As repulsed as we are by the Empire's methods, how can we, in good conscience, root for a woman who will use the memory of loved ones as carte blanche for all her terrible actions?

Noble and kind and honest doesn't seem to get you very far in this world. And I can't wait to see how that sentiment changes as the series goes on.

Do you know what my most favourite part about the book is, though? The writing.

I loved it in Traitor, but compared to Monster I can only call the former restrained and the latter experimental and free-flowing. Dickinson just does so many interesting things with the style and formatting--we get PoV and tense switches, flashbacks, interludes, small diagrams in the middle of paragraphs, interjections from dead characters (or so it seems), extended use of parentheses. Each PoV comes with its own distinct voice and structure, so even when nothing notable was happening plot-wise, I was still very much engaged by the writing itself.

I love the creativity and the daring of it because you don't see too many epic fantasy books go, "Fuck conventional styles, I'm just going to do what I want." And in a sequel at that.

And what surprised me was how much humour there is. Some of it's gallows humour--the "can't cry so might as well laugh" type--but others are genuine, which I didn't expect considering how things ended in Traitor. Really, all I could think was that he must have had a ton of fun writing some of this because I had a ton of fun reading it.

He does a lot of things and I know it won't be to everyone's tastes--I know some people like the prose in their fantasy to be plain and invisible--but, for me, they all worked and really cemented Dickinson as one of my favourites in the genre.

So if you're one of those people who have sunk far too many hours of their lives into grand strategy games like Europa Universalis and Crusader Kings (*whistles loudly*) and the notion of staring at a map plotting out trade alliances, assassinations, and increasing territory while stamping out conflict makes you positively giddy, then my god, this book (and the series) is for you. It is geopolitical fantasy at its finest.

If you're one of those people who are into books written by someone who's well-versed in science and politics and knows how to communicate them to the readers in a clear but interesting way, while also creating ridiculously complex characters and drowning the text in flair and wordsmithery...then you should also maybe, probably, most definitely pick this up.

Thank you to Tor for providing the review copy. All opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Pearl.
170 reviews21 followers
December 10, 2018
“The Never-ending frustrating failures of Baru Cormorant” , that’s what this sequel should have been named but it wouldn’t have been as catchy. It took me a little over 3 weeks to complete this book, phew! I am emotionally exhausted and a tad relieved that that task is over with, trust me…the will power it took for me to pick it up after I had set it down for less frustrating and bleak material was huge.

I don’t know if it was the hype and the long wait for a follow-up or it was all of the, if I’m to be honest, nothingness that happened here. Except for everyone being predictively nasty under the guise of political intrigue and cleverness. No one was actually doing anything monumental; the clever plotting always fell flat and by the end of the book, I couldn’t pin down the motivations of some of the newer characters…but oh well.

In the first book, Baru has a driving back story that explains away all the tough sacrifices she made and as a reader, I was cheering on for her because i had an understanding/sympathy of the motivations behind some of her questionable actions. In this book, she is constantly failing, and half of the time, i was left questioning if she was worth Tain Hu’s huge sacrifice and loyalty from the first book.

This gradual doubt that creeps in the further you read the book is what adds on to the slight unpleasantness of the experience. I kept sighing to myself thinking of what a waste it had all been, everything that had happened in the first book. If this was probably one of the goals of this book, then, job well done. It’s just that no one likes reading about the main protagonist’s never-ending failures and naive mistakes, that’s all.

After I set the book down and read some other stuff, picking it up and getting through the remaining last portion was surprisingly easy because I found myself laughing at the absurdity of the goings-on; the conversations and some of the plot would suddenly make me chortle out loud. I think right after Baru , the sex scene up until the book climax, is filled with surprise laughter-inducing moments tbh.

My final thoughts in regards to Baru and the little that actually happened in the book is summed up by one of the book's ending quotes: "Who says you have a duty to a nation? Who says you cannot reject an unjust duty? Who says you can decide which evil is small enough to tolerate, and which is too great to allow? Who says you should allow anyone to hold such power over you, the power to use your work for purposes you do not understand?". The relevance of this quote is spot-on for Baru.

All i ask for in the follow-up book(s) is #JusticeForTainHu! !
Profile Image for Ashley.
2,659 reviews1,693 followers
May 15, 2021
This is my 2,000th review! I should say, it’s my 2,000th review written, not posted, since I started reviewing books in 2008. This one’s been holding me up.

Baru Cormorant is one of those series where you really have to be in the right mood. And you have to make sure to take the time to let the story breathe. At least for me, this isn’t a book you can just read straight through in a matter of days, or even in a week. It’s too raw and stressful and there is so much detail. And the protagonist is so morally gray, and her situation so fraught.

I liked this one, not as much as the first one, but this one has some challenges the first one didn’t. After Baru has made her first power move and succeeded (and failed), this one has more logistics and table-setting and opening up the world for the next two books. We get more POVs here than just Baru, there are flashbacks, and there are a significant amount of story set in a new nation, the Oriati, which is the Masquerade’s main challenge. They can’t figure out how to conquer them, and their traditional tactics (like the ones used to conquer Baru’s home) have not worked.

I have a feeling the next two books are going to be gradually even harder to get through for me because the closer Baru gets to her goal, the closer she gets to losing her humanity. This is the central concern of the book, and the thing that interests me, but it also keeps wanting to ruin me emotionally, so reading these books is, as I said before, fraught.

Will hopefully get to book three later this summer. No idea when four will be out.

Read Harder Challenge 2021: Read a book you've been intimidated to read.
Profile Image for Hiu Gregg.
113 reviews156 followers
July 7, 2020
Maybe like a 4.5 in the end? Some revelations were more confusing than anything else, which impacted how "satisfying" this was to read, but I guess that comes with a book that was split in two. Looking forward to book 3 to see where things go from here. Roll on, August!
Profile Image for ..
462 reviews
November 1, 2018
10/31/18: IT HAS BEEN READ.

So, I binge-read this as soon as it came out. (As in, yesterday.)

My original rating still stands, though a more level ratinwig would probably be closer to a 4.5/5. There's just a little something that this book is missing that makes it as good as The Traitor Baru Cormorant, its predecessor. I think what Traitor had was a bit more naïveté and thrilling joy of the idea of turning the Masquerade inside out. Though Traitor tackled serious themes and ended on a very somber note, there was a lot of joy to be found in the racing through the years (as Baru raced through the ranks and her plans).

Which is not to say Monster isn't enjoyable or doesn't have its small, quiet and happy moments. It's just missing that little spark. But I do think in a way, that makes sense. Baru is really struggling in this book. She's deeply depressed and guilt-ridden, and her attempts to force it all down just makes her feel worse. Baru really is a monster in the eyes of herself and everyone around her. And that's what makes this book feel heavy, the knowledge that Baru's bright-eyed enthusiasm for rebellion is gone. The more time passes, the more sluggish Baru seems, almost forcing herself to continue with her plans if only because there is no reason not to. It's in stark contrast with the first book, where Baru was forcefully sincere in her desire to destroy the Masquerade.

That being said, this book is still outstanding. It does suffer a bit from the so-called "middle book syndrome". But that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Middle books are the vehicle to propel us from a journey's start to finish. If Traitor was exciting because it was the start of a new adventure, Monster is (the start of) a long, desperate struggle to get to the resolution.

+ The Characters: As with the first book, the story juggles a plethora of characters (of good, bad, and to be determined intentions). This is still very much Baru's book, Baru's story, but Dickinson decided in Monster to have the readers spend some time in other characters' shoes (both in the past and present), and I think it was a very good writing decision. It ups the political intrigue and makes conversations/pacts between characters all the more mysterious. Absolutely no one is to be trusted -- though, of course, Baru is the most hatred and least trusted of them all right now. The different POVs also serve to help flesh out previously-side-characters and make the world-building flourish.

+ Baru: I love her so much. She's truly a mess. And she remains my favorite character in the series.

+ Writing: Dickinson is an impeccable writer. What can I say? One of my favorite books of all time is Wicked, and so in my eyes the highest compliment I can say is that Dickinson writes as good (if not better) than Maguire's standout work. The different POVs are all unique and Baru's more fluid, stream-of-conscious type thoughts and dreams are quite striking.

+ Themes: Like before, Dickinson tackles a lot of serious themes in Monster, primarily sexuality, gender, sexism, racism, and colonialism. One thing that I particularly enjoyed was how often

+ Twists: My god. These are going to keep me wondering and turning over and over again in my head until the third book. The plot goes in some rather unexpected directions and there were some huge revelations in the last 1/3 of the book.

There's really no major missteps here in Dickinson's second Masquerade novel. At times I did find the pacing to be a little slow, but not so much that it truly impacted my enjoyment. And that being said, I honestly can't think of anything I would have cut from the novel. I don't think slowness is truly a bad thing; the world-building is so rich, the political lines all so tangled, that they simply just beg to be expounded upon.

At times though I was wishing that there could be a glossary to refresh us on all the characters, especially with the influx of new characters/cultures. Maybe in book 3?

All in all, I went into this book with stupidly high expectations and was very pleased to come away feeling satisfied. I wish that I could sit down and read the next installment right now ...


02/20/18: Yes!! We finally have a cover! ❤️❤️


I don't normally rate books before they come out, but, really ... the first book was phenomenal. One of my top 10 favorite books. 100% expect this book to be just as good.


Too bad we have to wait until 2018 ...
Profile Image for Meg.
208 reviews44 followers
January 19, 2019
"Surely she could justify any sacrifice. To stop now would be to betray those lives she’d already spent … and the more lives she spent, the more reason she had to sacrifice even more …”

I remember being really captivated by The Traitor Baru Cormorant back in 2015. I haven’t re-read it since. This second book, The Monster Baru Cormorant, makes me wonder if I wouldn't care for the first book as much if I re-read it, or if this volume simply constitutes a sophomoric slump.

Baru is broken for understandable reasons (of her own making).

"It hurt like—how had she thought of it at Sieroch? Like glass powder in her cup. Like glimmering motes in the flesh of her throat, in the sponge of her lungs, pumped into her blood so glass lodged in the small joints of her fingers and the lobes of her ears. It hurt. But if Baru could just find a problem to tackle, a maneuver to plot, a precision to execute with all her life and work at stake, then she’d be too full of cleverness to grieve.”

The problem with having her mope and blunder about for 400 pages is that it isn’t very compelling, narratively speaking. This is true of any book that isn’t first and foremost a literary meditation on dealing with grief which has a plot that the main character doesn’t want to engage in. It simply dragged on for too long here, and I suppose we have to wait for the third or fourth book in the series for Baru to really get back in the game. Which is too long. (Upon googling, it turns out this series is now a quartet instead of a trilogy because the middle book was so long it had to be split into two, and this is the first half. Now everything makes sense. This book should not have been split into two— it should’ve been revised down to one).

We did get one example of her technocrat ruthlessness, when she takes over the Llosydanes. I never thought I’d ask for more content on accounting and banking in a novel but the day has come. Dickinson makes it all so fascinating, is able to say through Baru: this is how the world works on a geopolitical and financial scale.

"Banking was the most powerful weapon in the world, because people stored their wealth in banks, and the banks could loan that wealth out to fund great labors. You could tax your people dead to fund your armies, and they would hate you for it. But give them a bank and a fair interest rate and they would give you everything they had and let you do what you pleased with it and ask only to have it back when you were done.”

Baru is also very creepy in this book , so I suppose that’s a plus? As are the final scenes at the Embassy--pure horror material.

It took me some time to get used to Dickinson’s prose — the first few chapters had me going, ahh, was it always this overwrought? But I adjusted eventually and got into the rhythm of it and there really were some very good lines:

"If they learn what we do on distant shores to secure their safety and prosperity, I am certain they would hang us all. Not for the crime of what we did, mind! But for the crime of allowing them to know."

"Make enough death, and like any other currency it loses its value."

"Baru thought: What I see of other people is the output of a hashing function.

I’ll never know anyone’s true self, will I? Their thoughts and memories, the selfness of someone, the me-ness of me: that’s like a true name, a person in all their formless awesome grandeur. But we do not see that grandeur. We see each other only in the shapes we are forced to assume. Words constrain us, and also our laws, and our fears and hopes, and the wind, and the rain, and the dog that barks while we’re trying to speak, all these things constrain us.

We all force our true selves into little hashes and show them like passwords. A smile is a hashing function, and a word, and a cry. The cry is not the grief, the word is not the meaning, the smile is not the joy: we cannot run the hash in reverse, we cannot get from the sign to the absolute truth. Maybe the smile is false. Maybe the grief is a lie.

But we can compare the hash to a list, and guess at the meaning."

"Was goodness still good if you hewed to it out of tactical necessity? Was there, Baru wondered, any difference between being good and pretending to be good for your own gain, if you took the same actions in the end? Was there any difference between telling the truth unconditionally, and deploying the truth in service of your agenda, if you told the same truth?

Maybe the Oriati thought so.

Maybe the difference between truth-for-itself and tactical truth was the only difference that mattered. Maybe the most crucial and subtle distinction in life was the difference between someone who was truly good and someone playing at goodness to gain power.

Could she distinguish those two tendencies in herself?"
Profile Image for Jess.
279 reviews
February 6, 2019
4.5/5 stars.

"She felt despair. How could she be anything except what he had designed? But other hands had touched her. And closer to her heart.”

I almost feel like I need to go back and lower my rating for the first book a tiny bit just to reflect how much better I liked this one, because HOO BOY, I wasn’t expecting this to be the case, but I enjoyed this one so much better.

That’s not to say it’s necessarily a better book and from a cursory look at the reviews it seems like most readers actually thought the opposite. But this one engaged me so much more. I thought the first book was great, but admitted that it was, at times, a slog to get through, that I struggled with the info dumping, and pages and pages would go by where I felt like I was floating above the story rather than hooked within it.

This was absolutely not the case with The Monster Baru Cormorant. I absolutely loved the POV switches in this book and felt they really elevated the story. There are *lots* of characters in these books, and the chance to get inside more of their heads and know them more intimately made me all the more emotionally invested. But the true brilliance of structuring the book this way lies in the fact that we get to see a bunch of complicated, unreliable narrators—each of whom is bringing their own different and incomplete sets of knowledge and biased views to the table—ruminate on one another, and it’s absolutely GLORIOUS. This means we get to see Baru comment on her own experiences, and then immediately after see another character makes false assumptions about Baru that give us so much insight into their personalities and positions in this world, and on and on it goes with all of them. This was all done so incredibly deftly and it was a treat to read. (Also…I just love the characters at the forefront of this book so much. Gimme all the Tau-indi chapters please.)

The other major reason I enjoyed this book more is simply because it made me adore Baru more than ever before. I already loved her in the first book, but I did, at times, feel a little wary of the thought of her slipping into Unbelievably Competent and Unfailingly Brilliant Character territory. I’ve already seen that some readers were frustrated with her in this book for “moping around and not accomplishing much” etc. and that's absolutely valid and I can see how someone might be let down after loving the first, but for me? THAT WAS EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED. I’m SO glad we got to see her reckoning with the trauma she’s experienced. I’m so glad we got to see her feel and own up to her pain. If she had been able to get right back on her feet and make her way through this book with flying colors I’d have been so bored. Instead we get to see her sink into a puddle of her own messiness, exist in states of confusion, struggle with indecisiveness, wake from nightmares and be haunted by memories, and care. She’s always cared but in this book she admits it more readily, because in some ways, she can’t help but do so. As I said, I really liked Baru in the first book, but she is fully human to me now after reading this book. Absolutely real.

All this being said, this is another extremely plotty blook with so much complicated shit going on, for lack of a better description. And like in the first book I did have a bit of difficulty keeping it all afloat in my brain. Seth Dickinson truly does just trudge forward confidently and expect his readers to keep up, which is a good thing, but it also means I did feel lost for context sometimes. Even with notes I found it impossible to remember who every single person or place of note was and why they were important. It’s hard to say whether this is simply a personal issue or an actual fault of the book, but I’ve knocked off 0.5 stars both for that and also some descriptions that made me feel a bit uncomfy. (These books can get pretty vulgar and I rarely felt like lines were being crossed, but there were just one or two times in which I recall my hackles being raised a bit at certain language choices and what not.)

Overall, gosh, what a read. I hope I like the next one just as much as this one.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 757 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.