Title: The Betrayals
Writer: Bridget Collins
Publishing House: William Morrow
Date of Publication: November 12th 2020
Rating: 5 stars
‘’Tonight the moonlight makes the floor of the Great Hall into a game board. Every high window casts a bright lattice, dividing the hall into black and white, squares and margins. The ranks of wooden benches face one another on three sides; in the space between them, there is nothing but straight shadows on stone, an abstract in pen and ink. It is as still as a held breath.’’
In a country ruled by the Party, a minister who has fallen out of favour returns to the place that marked his course in life twenty years ago. A time of immense potential and endless egotism. Montverre is the beating heart of the grand jeu, the game where music, maths, dreams and concentration neet to form a peculiar combination. The jewel of the land, the pride of the nation, the mirror of the ‘’purity’’ enforced by the Party. It is there that Leo meets Claire, the Magister Ludi. It is there that the past returns, demanding retribution. For every betrayal must be punished…
‘’There were grands jeux played in the Hagia Sophia, and in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and at the Western Wall. It is modern arrogance to imagine that the divinity we hope to touch through the grand jeu is better than, or even different to the deities of other religions. A young way to worship is not necessarily a better way; nor is it the only way.’’
‘’We remake the world so that we can submit to it.’’
Bridget Collins has created a world that is claustrophobic, ruthless, secretive, yet enticing. Frighteningly so. A country that vaguely resembles France in an era that seems to fall between the 30s and 40s, is ruled by a ruthless version of an Orwellian government. Religion -especially Christianity- is persecuted, the believers are placed in the margin of society and women are seen as a commodity with few exceptions that are closely monitored and controlled. The atmosphere is full of threat and persecution, betrayal is the only way to advance. Through the eyes of a disgraced politician, a magister that has defied the adversities in her way, and a strange girl called the Rat, we dive into a world where a game is all there is and life and freedom have been labelled as expendable.
‘’Show weakness, and you’re doomed.’’
With its dragon laws, the mystery and vague setting, I was reminded of the world created in Gormenghast. I can’t describe the feeling of ‘’walking’’ down the nightly corridors or trying to grasp the concept and essence of the grand jeu. Collins took me on a journey through moonlight and silence, steps lit by the all-seeing moon in a place stuck in time. Night provides the perfect scenery, creeping in hiding places and keeping secrets that must not see the light of day. Secrecy is a major theme in this beautiful novel, reflecting the tempest of oppression and repressed feelings in a harrowing danse macabre. The dynamics between Claire and Leo are brilliantly depicted and Claire is a formidable, memorable character as is Rat whose haunting presence elevates the novel.
From the mystery of winter to the magic of Midsummer’s Eve, this is a story that stays with us and transports us to a powerful ‘’what-if’’.
‘’Look at me, I can bleed without being wounded. I can empty myself again and again and again.’’
Many thanks to William Morrow and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.