This is one of those rare instance where I wish the book had been longer. In, fact, I wish this book had actually been two or three books instead of just one. It wasn’t a bad book, but there were issues that I think would’ve been fixed if there’d been more to it.
The book starts with a young Baru, living with her family unit – two fathers and a mother – in the nation of Taranoke. Taranoke starts getting visitors from a distant empire referred to as The Masquerade. It’s a slow invasion, starting as harmless trading, then the Masquerade’s currency is introduced, and then soldiers start trickling in, and then Masquerade schools are built. Without a real battle ever being fought, Taranoke is colonized and controlled by The Masquerade. When one of Baru’s fathers is killed, Baru knows it is because The Masquerade considering homosexuality “unhygienic.” She vows to topple The Masquerade from the inside.
Sounds like a lot, right? That’s actually only a small part of the story, making up at most one quarter of the book. The idea of seeing a nation be conquered through economics and politics is interesting, and I think this part could’ve been a book on its own. It’s good for people with a short attention span, but not so good for those that like to escape into books because there’s simply not enough there.
Once Baru completes her schooling, The Masquerade sends her to act as Imperial Accountant of Aurdwynn, another land they are trying to control. There she must deal with political intrigue and power games to squash rebellion and keep her life. Again, while, interesting, this left me wishing for more. Baru’s time in Aurdwynn could easily have been another two books.
If the book had been longer, it might have also smoothed the ending. I’ll go into more detail about that in the Spoilers section. Suffice to say, the book is almost a cliffhanger and begs for a sequel.
Was it entertaining? Yes. Was it great? No. It was good, and it had the potential to be great, but it fell short.
This is a book of acts. Act 1 is Baru in Taranoke. Act 2 is Baru as Accountant in Aurdwynn. In Act 3, Baru turns traitor against The Masquerade and joins the rebellion. And in Act 4, Baru is revealed to be a double traitor, and that her participation in the rebellion was a ruse to draw out all the malcontents, thus positioning them elimination and proving her loyalty to The Masquerade.
Somewhere between Act 3 and Act 4, the book seemed to make an abrupt turn, and for all of Act 4 I was confused. Not the good, “how could this happen” sort of confused, but the suspicious, squinty-eyed confusion of a reader trying to decide if they’re staring at a story hole or just missed something.
Perhaps it’s because I never felt really connected to the characters, but I wasn’t that shocked or horrified by the ending. Instead, I spent the end trying to figure out how the book even got there. We spend the whole time in Baru’s head, but there didn’t seem to be any obvious clues that she was planning this double-cross. Since we were privy to her thoughts and emotions, shouldn’t we have at least known something was off, even if we didn’t know what? Of course, I admit to not being particularly aware of such clues, but I just feel like the book leaped from point A to point E and skipped all the stuff in between.