The Monster Baru Cormorant...is...a tense and mesmerizing geopolitical fantasy that asks whether it’s possible to destroy an empire from within without it digesting you first ...
Monster expands and deepens the world Baru inhabits ... The machinations are often dizzying in their interlocking complexities, but always utterly absorbing—though readers may well want to refamiliarize themselves with the first book, or with the author’s own primer on the subject, before diving in to this one ... the meat of Monster is an exploration of...fascinating characters and their competing obsessions.
The Monster Baru Cormorant offers a deeper, yet still hedonistically seductive look into the Empire of Masks. Multiple POV narrators, jumping from first person to third, present to past, flawlessly detail the web of events that spiral around Baru as she drives herself mercilessly forward to honor Tain Hu’s requests ... A hard, mesmerizing book, The Monster Baru Cormorant will have deep appeal with fans of both dark and low fantasy ('hard' fantasy), as well as those looking for the world-as-character detailing found in many of the more popular epic/high fantasy worlds.
The Monster gets off to a deliberate and demanding start, but from this point in the novel on, with the busywork of worldbuilding and whatnot behind him, Dickinson truly lets loose. A great many pieces of the puzzle come together, ramping up in parallel towards a crushing conclusion ... though I hate to say it, [Dickinson] lets his grip slip a little, but beyond the bumps in the road...it’s back to business as usual—and in these books, business as usual boils down to heart-breaking, brutal, shrewd and often shocking storytelling. A fiendishly clever psychological thriller with sharp speculative edges, The Monster Baru Cormorant is morally abhorrent, yet massively satisfying.
Political epic The Monster Baru Cormorant is more surgical exploration than escape, a bloody hunt for all the wrongs in the body politic. It explores what it means to fight an empire from the inside out, and employs a particularly remarkable protagonist to do it ... Morally-dubious protagonists subvert the idea of the fantasy hero as an force for good. But Dickinson’s ... system is evil, and whether Baru can separate herself from it (or be seen as separate from it) is the novel's essential question, one that has real-world connotations for all of us. Nothing can survive contact with colonialism without touching it. It’s right there in the title. For now, Baru is the protagonist, but she has become a monster.
Dickinson packs a lot into this dense, multilayered, complicated epic, letting the story unfold through multiple perspectives, flashbacks, tense shifts, and other narrative devices. As Baru juggles increasing amounts of trauma with an unrelenting focus on the endgame, she continually proves herself as a fascinating, morally grey protagonist in a complex world where conflicts take place on the high seas, in the ballroom, and in the marketplace. It all builds to a powerful cliff-hanger, with hints of much more to come.