Consequences. I think a good sequel has to be about consequences — not just the expected consequence of What Happens Next, but the unintended and unexamined consequences of the choices made in the first book.
In The Traitor Baru Cormorant, Baru chose to serve the empire that conquered her home in order to gain power and tear them down from within. She succeeded, and now she is one of the Emperor’s own agents, a member of the camarilla behind the Throne.
But Baru’s great weakness is self-centered thinking. She always forgets that there are other players on the board… and that the people she betrays are as fully human, and as fully capable, as she.
(I love it when fiction gives new dimensionality to side characters; when we get to open them and see that they were full and dynamic and interesting. I think this narrative empathy is one of the greatest gifts storytelling can offer.)
One of the people Baru betrayed was Admiral Juris Ormsment, an Imperial Navy officer who appeared in a few chapters of The Traitor Baru Cormorant. Baru tricked her into lowering her guard and stole the tax ships under her protection. Now, in the wake of the failed rebellion that rocked Aurdwynn, Juris wants justice… even if that means mutiny.
Excerpt from The Monster Baru Cormorant:
Spring came to Aurdwynn, and the streets of Treatymont bloomed with winter corpses.
Over the last four weeks Province Admiral Juris Ormsment had watched this corpse’s black foot grow out of a melting ice dam. This was her favorite spot in the city, a garden gallery off Arwybon Plaza, and she came here whenever she could to escape the suffocating Governor’s House, but the foot had rather ruined the mood. With the city’s workforce depleted in for Cattlson’s debacle, corpses came out of the ice faster than they could be cleared. This one’s killers had cut away the big toe for a rebel bounty. (Or, maybe, it had been eaten. Samne Maroyad insisted there was such a thing as an ice-tunneling rat.) Probably this dead man was a faithful citizen, killed for his loyalty.
Killed like too many others.
Dead sailors in a warm harbor, their eyes and their guts emptied by the gulls. And the chips of teeth left in their broken jaws chattered as they begged her:
Why did you abandon us, Admiral Ormsment? Where were you when she struck?
Why did you let this happen?
She flattened the rocket signal across her lap and read it again.
ANNALILA TO TREATYMONT/ADMIRAL’S EYES ONLY
PASS BY ROCKET RELAY HIGHEST IMPORTANCE
I HAVE CRITICAL NEWS.
EXCELLENT WORK BY LT CDR AMINATA HAS GIVEN US A LEAD.
IMPERIAL AGENT BARU CORMORANT — SAME AGENT WHO EXECUTED THE MASSACRE OF YOUR SAILORS AT WELTHONY — ALSO BAITED THE ORIATI ATTACK ON YOUR PROVINCE.
SHE IS INVOLVED IN PLOT TO TRIGGER SECOND ARMADA WAR. SUSPECT IMPERIAL THRONE DESIRES WAR TO FORCE ACCESS TO ORIATI MBO.
CONSIDER THIS AGENT HIGHEST POSSIBLE THREAT TO ASHEN SEA PEACE.
I HAVE DEPLOYED NULLSIN AND RNS ASCENTATIC TO TRACK AND SECURE HER. HOLD YOUR COMMAND. DO NOT DO ANYTHING WHICH COULD COMPROMISE US OR LEAD TO PURGE. I REPEAT DO NOT MOVE TOO SOON.
PROVINCE ADMIRAL FALCREST AHANNA CROFTARE HAS BEEN INFORMED AND WILL REPLY
JURIS. DO NOT GO AFTER HER.
REAR ADMIRAL SAMNE MAROYAD
The rage rose up in her again. Water hammer. That was the name. Water hammer — when you closed a pipe-valve too quickly, or detonated a mine underwater, then a pressure wave would form in the water or the sea. It could tear plumbing from the wall or cave in a ship’s hull. Water hammer. And for a moment she was eleven again, standing on the rusty ladder inside the settlement’s well, with the stone lid propped up on her fingertips: later they would swell up into bloody bulbs. She had watched from that well as the Invijay came through the fences (this was before the Armada War: there was no Occupation to the south to buffer the Butterveldt). She had watched them kill her mother and grandmother and take her father for a slave and a whore. They had that power, the power to end a life, to close the future off like a pipe and send the shock of that closure into the world. Water hammer.
She came back to this little gallery because it reminded her of the well. Stone duty on every side, chaos past those walls. And that water rising under her, rising to beat at the cover, rage and sorrow and need for justice, the water hammer —
Oh, Samne, she thought. How can’t I go after her? The dead cry out for it, don’t they? The sailors I left in Baru’s reach, the sailors who trusted me to trust her. Didn’t I betray them when Baru betrayed me? Didn’t I fail that trust?
Of course Samne Maroyad wouldn’t have sent the message if she thought Ormsment had any way to do something stupid. Any hint as to where to begin.
Which she didn’t. Yet.
There was another reason Ormsment came to this gallery. A stone hidden in the wall, with a flat white face where she could mark a date and time to meet.
“Hey,” she said, to the blackened foot in the ice. “Hey, you. Do the dead care?”
The foot had nothing to say. She tried clarifying. “Do you care what we do in your name?”
It was a fucking foot, so of course it wouldn’t answer. She had to do an admiral’s duty and decide for herself.
Everyone, Juris Ormsment thought, ended up dead. Everyone. If you stopped mattering when you died, life had no meaning: that was pretty clearly unacceptable. So you did matter after you died. Why? You mattered because people acted in your memory.
The living had a responsibility to the dead. A responsibility to honor their successes, and to make right the wrongs done against them. It was as true for a mother of dead sons as an admiral of dead sailors.
And that was that. She could choose not to do it, of course. But a choice not to do the right thing had a name, and that name was evil.
She took the stone from its place in the gallery wall. In small Aphalone blocks, using a calligraphy brush, she painted a date and a time. She had never done this, and she had no reason to believe it would work, except that the Bane of Wives said it would.
Nothing had ever stopped the Bane of Wives from doing what she said she would do.
Juris Ormsment realized she would probably never see her little gallery again. So she got out her dive knife, knelt on the filthy ice in her dress uniform, and began to chip the black-footed corpse free of its tomb.
The Monster Baru Cormorant will hit shelves on October 30th.