The Traitor Baru Cormorant, China, and The Roman Empire


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I took four years of Latin in high school. I joined a Latin club in college. I took a History of Ancient Greece class for fun. I love learning about the classical civilizations.

“The Traitor Baru Cormorant” was not a book I expected to make me crow with the joy of someone who read the Aenied voluntarily. For one thing, the protagonist and the majority of the characters are refreshingly non-white. Baru is introduced with her two fathers, watching a ship dock. I got the impression that she lived in an archipelago.

But Dickinson drew on quite a bit of history to make his world, and the empire of “The Traitor Baru Cormorant” is heavily inspired by the Roman empire. Dickinson also picked out whatever he wanted to from a dozen different countries, from the revolutionary legacy of China to the Indian Schools that practically annihilated Native American culture.

This is one of the true joys of fantasy: to make a world both like and unlike our own. To play with our own history, to combine cultures in unlikely ways. And Dickinson combines his mad cultural playground with both fantastically drawn, fierce characters, and with intensely realistic geopolitics. It’s seriously amazing, and I can’t wait to read the next one.


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