THE TRAITOR BARU CORMORANT by Seth Dickinson
A young and brilliant mathematician is sent to oversee a nation on the outskirts of the Empire of Masks as Imperial Accountant, as well as sniff out plots of treachery.
At first blush, it may seem like the “traitor” part of the title tips Dickinson’s hand too much, but the beauty of this book is that the reader never knows who Baru will betray at any stage of the book. Will she turn her back on the Masquerade and forfeit her dreams of rescuing her island nation Taranoke from its rule? Or is the northern country of Aurdwynn one more stepping stone on her journey to power? While the bank plots and tactical decisions may seem daunting, they are always carefully explained and made easy to follow, and Baru’s ruthlessness and its toll on her make her and especially compelling character. Baru’s sexuality is never paraded or made light of; instead it reads like a weapon, a double-edged blade that could be her downfall but is also her greatest solace as she destroys the world around her to achieve her goals.
A long read, but an immensely good one: it digs deep into ruthlessness, revenge, and all the cold calculation of having a goal more important than anything, while also understanding exactly the prices that must be paid and their toll on the human psyche.