Title: The Betrayals (review copy)
Author: Bridget Collins
Genre/Themes: Alternative History, Paranormal, Mystery, Secret Identity
Blurb from Goodreads
At Montverre, an exclusive academy tucked away in the mountains, the best and brightest are trained for excellence in the grand jeu: an arcane and mysterious contest. Léo Martin was once a student there, but lost his passion for the grand jeu following a violent tragedy. Now he returns in disgrace, exiled to his old place of learning with his political career in tatters.
Montverre has changed since he studied there, even allowing a woman, Claire Dryden, to serve in the grand jeu’s highest office of Magister Ludi. When Léo first sees Claire he senses an odd connection with her, though he’s sure they have never met before.
Both Léo and Claire have built their lives on lies. And as the legendary Midsummer Game, the climax of the year, draws closer, secrets are whispering in the walls…
I loved Bridget Collins’ adult debut The Binding so there was never any doubt that I would read her second adult offering and oooh was it gooooooood.
To me Collins’ novels are all about the experience of reading. That journey. Somehow she manages to suck me into these worlds she creates, worlds almost like ours…but not quite.
It’s difficult to describe what The Betrayals is about. I actually went into the read completely blind. I didn’t read any blurb, promotional matter etc. And I love that I didn’t. Because it meant that the book unfolded for me in the most natural of ways; I didn’t know what was coming, who was good, who was bad, what was up, what was down!! It was delicious just discovering this world and these characters for myself.
The book is all about the Grand Jeu… and what is that exactly? Well that’s the brilliant part of this book, we never really know in black and white, only in abstract terms; its an ancient game that is of huge importance to society. It’s part maths, part music, part philosophy, part performance, part religion. I feel enough information is given throughout the story to envision what the Grand Jeu means to each of us as readers because as you read the book little glistening threads are woven together to create the elusive Grand Jeu; it’ll mean something unique to you on completion. However, if you like your explanations to be a little more literal you might struggle with the concept.
As for the characters… prepare for unlikeable characters, determined characters, pompous characters, innocent characters … I just loved how I went on a journey with each of the main characters. How by the end there was so much betrayal throughout the novel, and how as a reader you’re unsure if you should trust certain character motivations over others…
The book primarily follows the character of Léo in two time periods. In the present day as a disgraced politician who finds himself sent to Montverre as punishment of sorts and to keep an eye on the new Magister Luidi there.
Montverre is the school / university where the Grand Jeu is studied and the Magister Luidi is like an academic dean who oversees all the students’ learning. But their position is one that is assigned for life and has only ever been awarded to men who were accomplished scholars at Montverre as Montverre is a male only educational institute.
In the present time period the Magister Luidi is a woman, Claire Dryden…. due to unforeseen deviousness and her manipulation of the hiring process if you are to believe the old white men in suits!!! Hence Léo needs to keep an eye on Claire. So we get the two points of view of these characters who are deeply suspicious… yet strangely drawn to each other.
We are also given Léo’s point of view from when he was a student through his diaries. And sprinkled throughout are brief chapters from the point of view of a character simply called The Rat.
Using all these characters and different perspectives the book explores the concepts of trust, betrayal, ego, humility, and love. All with a healthy dollop of political intrigue with a sprinkling of battling time-old misogyny.
And it’s fantastic.
The plot just draws you in. I kept wanting to know more and more about these characters, about what was unfolding around them.
This is quite the slow burn read. It requires patience I feel, and also for the reader to take certain leaps of faith that they don’t know everything… and perhaps never will. But to me this was great. It felt unique, refreshing. I was never bored and was desperate to find out where these characters would all end up.
I liked that the pace of the novel, though slow, felt purposeful. I liked the teasing of what was happening with the Grand Jeu in both time periods; word of the wise Léo isn’t always the most likeable of characters but I enjoyed that about him. His personality makes sense when you think about the theme represented by the book’s title. I was 100% invested in his two storylines and was eager to see how exactly the tragic events of the past had affected Léo in the present day; his rivalry with Carfax in the past …. AHHHH LOVE LOVE LOVE! And then there was all this uncertainty of the political climate in the present and as a reader you’re not sure if Léo has good intentions at heart or if he’s trying to save his own skin while condemning others to damnation.
Claire is a more likeable character. I really admired her spunk and determination to achieve against the odds. She was always having to battle misogyny and prejudice, but did so with great sass and dignity. A truly compelling character.
As for the Rat… I’m somewhat unsure. They’re the one character that I feel was underdeveloped. Much of their story is alluded to rather than defined, which I was okay with… but the climax of their storyline felt a bit rushed I think. I just needed there to be a little more oomph to it I guess. But a minor quibble indeed.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. It shares some sensibilities with The Binding in that there is a continuing air of mystery woven throughout the plot, and Collins definitely likes bittersweet and quasi-tragic romances in her novels… which are also my jam so kudos to her for creating a whole new one for me to love here.
A really great read for people who love taking a leap into the unknown.
*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*
Publishing 12th November 2020, The Borough Press