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The Tyrant Baru Cormorant Reading Notes (in Progress, Spoilers!)

Posted on the 29 August 2020 by Cathy Leaves @cathyleaves

It is finally here! I just finished Alex White'sSalvagerstrilogy and the second part of Tamsyn Muir'sLocked Tombtrilogy, but nothing is closer to my heart than Dickinson's human disaster Baru. When last we left her, her patron Cairdine Farrier (Itinerant) had sent her off to find the Cancrioth, a cancer cult that he suspected of still existing in the Masquerade's neighbour's Oriati Mbo. We know what Baru's goal is - learn how the Masquerade is run, get to the center of its power, and somehow find a way to destroy it to revenge and free her homeworld (we also know that it is a fallacy to think that you can change things from the inside, or that doing so won't change you into something you never expected int he process). Itinerant's goal is winning an ages-old ideological fight against his competitor Hesychast (Cosgrad Torrinde), an eugenicist who does not share his belief that ideological indoctrination (giving education, health care etc to conquered nation to absorb them into Falcrest) works. Both Hesychast and Itinerant are trying to find a way to absorb the Mbo, but each of them has their own ideological approach, and each of their proteges is being used to prove their respective theories (along the lines of nurture/nature). 

In The Monster Baru Cormorant, we met the Oriati Mbo the first time, through flashbacks into the childhood of Tau-indi Bosoka, Abudmasi Abd and Kindalana eshSegu - who start out as friends, but then become something more complicated when their individual relationships change and when young Torrinde and Farrier begin to study them. The Mbo is essentially different from Falcrest, which is an expanding empire that uses science, education and trade in addition to pure violence to expand its borders. The Mbo isn't expanding, but in spite of lacking what Falcrest sees as "progress" (even though Falcrest is as ideologically crippled as any place - obsessed with eugenics, obsessed with cleanliness, a mirror of the British empire, which exported its violent homophobia and "values" to its colonies), it has existed successfully and continuously for thousands of years. Its citizens die of plagues, they share what Falcrest considers a weird religion centred around the idea of "trim", an ethics of an "unshakable belief in the intrinsic and inalienable humanity of your neighbor". Trim cannot be manipulated or purchased, it cannot be exploited, it cannot be separated from the community. It makes Oriati Mbo a place utterly foreign to Falcrest, and incomprehensible not just to Itinerant and Hesychast, but also to Baru. 

At the beginning of The Tyrant Baru Cormorant, Baru once again wakes up after severe trauma and tries to orient herself - in the past, she has lost half of her vision, something else and foreign has taken over one of her hemispheres (something that is, perhaps, the love of her life Tain Hu - which would be befitting of me just having read Harrow the Ninth, a whole novel about two lovers sharing one body). She wakes up to her patron Farrier, who is anxious to find out if she has found the Cancrioth, as the fate of the empire depends on it, and the outcome of his fight with Hesychast. Farrier thinks that he can turn the Oriati against itself if he reveals the continued existence of the cult that is so taboo, that causes horror in each Oriati they have come across. Hesychast, as a eugenicist, has a lot of reasons of his own to be obsessed with a cult that believes in passing down identity through cancer. 

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