There are books you read once and forget, and then there are books that stay with you years after the fact. The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson is one such book for me, a hard fantasy novel I picked up a few years back and thought so highly of I wanted to dedicate my first Open Thread to it.
It involves a young woman whose homeland is invaded by the Empire of Masks, and with them comes an education centered on eugenics and heteronormativity. Viewed as a savant and a credit to her people, the invading nation promotes her to Imperial Accountant and has her shipped to another would-be colony. The ensuing power struggles test her loyalties as she attempts to bring down the kingdom from the inside.
I’d be lying if I said some swords don’t get unsheathed eventually, but the empire’s real power is soft and pernicious. Blackmail, spy networks, cultural conditioning, and the sort of economic strangulation that allows Baru to be a badass by virtue of inventing futures contracts. This is completely my jam.
At the end of the day though, it’s a story of a queer woman trying to topple an unjust system that ruined her family, and her discovery that in order to do so she may have to become what she hates. The book surprises you, surprises you by not surprising you, and breaks your heart all the same. I cannot recommend it enough.