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

Image result for the monster baru cormorant

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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

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