The Empire of Masks has come to conquer Baru’s home. Baru is collected into the Empire’s new school while her old life crumbles – same sex relationships are now cause for torture and death. Baru wants to save her homeland and is driven to do anything to save it – even when it looks like it will be too late.
Baru, Baru, Baru. I don’t understand you. I found it really difficult to connect to any of the characters, and at one point I asked my partner why on earth I kept reading! But there must have been something there, because I lost the two afternoons to reading it after it arrived in my inbox as an ebook (and I don’t even like reading ebooks, because they dry out my eyes!).
Baru’s bird counting was supposed to tip me off that she was a savant, but I didn’t get it. Only after reading the novel and the last couple of notes did I really understand what that really meant for her. Perhaps they should have said autistic savant. According to my good friend the online dictionary a savant is: ‘a person who knows a lot about a particular subject’ or ‘a person who does not have normal intelligence but who has very unusual mental abilities that other people do not have’.
The beginning caught me. I didn’t understand why the first couple of ‘chapters’ were written differently from the others, and in fact, I don’t think they were necessary. I guessed that they were supposed to tell me how important Baru’s family was to her, but this isn’t repeated throughout the novel. Instead, it turns to the drama and suspense of winning over a war-torn country using the financial system.
What I missed was the subtext that should have warned me about the ending. How will she save her own people? How does she know who is still alive? How do I know that she cares about them? I had left the novel with 9 pages remaining overnight, and I wanted to know how it ended. Yet I don’t know how I really feel about the ending.
My question is whether there is going to be as second novel. Or perhaps Dickinson feels like he has done enough to expose how empires can be made to crumble or how a single person can mean the difference between a ‘democracy’ or a ‘sovereignty’. Or whether he has sufficiently taught us how monsters are created.
I simply can’t give this 5 stars like some other reviewers. Yes, it’s good, yes, you’ll feel things, but I’m not sure I can accept it as a reread for me. In the end, my emotions had been so wrung out that I couldn’t care about any of them. I remain confused about it, which is perhaps a good sign. Go and read it for yourself, but be prepared for the unexpected.