Synopsis: Leo, a disgraced politician, is forced to return to Montverre in order to study the Grand Jeu. But tragedy struck Leo in the past, and when he meets Claire – The Magister Ludi – those memories come to the surface.
CW/TW: suicide/mentions of suicide/mental health-ableism/bullying/neglect/sexism/death/other warnings may exist that I have missed.
So I have yet to read The Binding, because someone always seems to have taken it from the library *sigh* but when I saw this beautiful book on Netgalley I had to request it because it sounded incredibly interesting. And while I still plan to read The Binding at some point this year, I have to admit The Betrayals, though beautifully written, did not quite hit the mark for me.
The Betrayals undoubtedly has beautiful prose, it is metaphorical and descriptive, full of mesmerising imagery and breathtaking settings. The prose is well matched to the story, which is, itself, abstract. While it focuses on tragedy and Leo and Claire’s past and present, the heart of the story is the grand jeu – though its meaning is truly what the story is about not the game itself – a game that is not a game, a complex feat of music, literature, mathematics and science, beautiful but remains an abstract to the reader throughout. I actually quite enjoyed the beauty and heart that lies behind the idea of the grand jeu, the emotion and presences required for it to be successful – along with the complexities, and I love literature references – which this book has plenty of. But as beautiful and mesmerising as the grand jeu is that alone was not enough to make me love this book.
The primary reason that I liked but did not love this book is Leo. Leo is our central character, clever and bold – a gold medallist in the grand jeu. But, he is not likeable. Now, I love an unlikeable character, a morally grey character, or a questionable one, however, Leo was unlikeable in a different way. I’m aware the book takes place in a different time period and setting, but Leo’s self-entitlement and blatant sexism was infuriating and he doesn’t change. Leo’s story is told in the present through his and Claire’s narrative, and in the past through his diary entries. Leo builds a relationship with Aime in the past, and Claire in the present – and I did not like either. Leo’s self-entitlement and self-centered focus made it impossible to root for him in either relationship, his bullying and poor choices added to the frustration – to the point that I did not feel much sympathy for him even when tragedy strikes him. I love characters who are clever, and know that they are – even when they are rude, but Leo (And though this is addressed in the story it wasn’t enough)has little redeeming qualities, – he is empty, his emotions seem superficial at best. This is a big point in his past storyline interms of the grand jeu but Leo never adequately addresses it – if he had then perhaps I would have liked him more.
Claire’s character was more likeable, a woman in a position usually occupied by men, at a place made for the education of boys. I appreciated her and her intelligence, her desire to be more than what society wishes of her. Though, I did not like her ‘relationship’ with Leo, or some of the choices she makes regarding him, I did like her and her attitude to the grand jeu. Some of her actions are understandable, however, by the end of the book- she is a complex character, and quite a presence, her story quite interesting. I was dismayed by her ending in the book, however, I did understand it because of the time period and setting.
I enjoyed the past storyline, Leo aside. In fact, I liked Aime. I liked his passion for the grand jeu, his resilience, his overall presence. His character carried the past storyline for me, he was a compelling character that made you want to keep reading. His tragic family line, the expectation of his genius, his seemingly arrogant personality, and his later vulnerability and passion – makes him a captivating character whose shocking story conjures much more sympathy.
I also enjoyed The Rat’s chapters. The Rat is human but not human, a shadow, a ghost, that creates a haunting atmosphere throughout the story. Seemingly detached from the wider narrative, only to come into focus later on and bring about a bigger and more important overall message. The Rat and Claire’s chapters seem less relevant to the wider story overall, until closer to the end of the novel where they sharpen and become key to the plot and to the messages it creates. The shocking truths that are revealed turn the book on its head and make the stark truth of the betrayals and secrets that permeate Montverre come alive and demand closure.
The story is compelling at times, enough to keep you reading, but it does fall a little flat at some instances. Leo’s character, though crucial to the story, was -to me- to unlikeable, and cold, making it hard for me to love this book.
*I received an eARC from #Netgalley (HarperCollins UK) in exchange for an honest review – thankyou!*