The Traitor: A Quiz
Dear Fantasy Faction,
Hi! I’m Seth, author of The Traitor Baru Cormorant (or The Traitor in the UK), an epic geopolitical revenge fantasy about a brilliant and ruthless young woman’s mission to tear down an empire — by becoming the imperial throne’s most trusted agent.
Baru’s gift and curse is her understanding of power. She can map the flow of money, disease, ideology, gossip, and military might across her world. She can see the gears of the civilization machine turning, and she can choose where to act to improve that machine…or to set it afire.
All Baru wants is freedom. But she’ll do anything to have it.
To make the story work, I needed a world like our own, a world alive with trade and thought. Wherever you go in Baru’s world, I want you to be able to look down and see the scars of history, look up and see the veins of silk and sailcloth and ink racing out to to the horizon. Binding everything to everything else.
And I want you to have fun! I want you to get attached to these people and their ways of life. Baru may be a Machiavellian manipulator, but I don’t think there’s any hope for the world (hers, or ours) unless we can find compassion and affection for the many people in it.
So I’ve made a game for us. Like Baru’s mission, it’s a game of many layers. Let’s see how we’d handle the tactical challenges of Baru’s journey — trying to reengineer the very course of civilization. Let’s see where in Baru’s world we’d be most at home, and which of the people in her life we most resemble.
1. You run a civilization. Your neighbors are volatile, but energetic. Their land is full of resources you want to access. What do you do?
a. Send a cultural mission to learn their problems. Create great art to make them feel better. Make friends — and admirers.
b. Crawl into their land over the course of decades, building bridges and engineering forts. Take it slow.
c. Overrun them with cavalry, replace their leadership structures, and dazzle them into marrying into your dynamic culture.
d. Set up incredibly profitable trade. Use the profits to provide your neighbors with indispensable goods and services, until they’re utterly dependent on you.
e. They’ll come to you. Trade for their currency, information, and commodities, then barter those to your other neighbors. You’re happy as the crossroads.
2. One of your colleagues comes to you with a secret problem. She’s afraid she’s done something wrong. What do you do?
a. Listen to her. Find out what you can do to help, and do it. Good deeds earn a good life.
b. Judge whether the secret will help or harm the community. The world’s harsh, and the group has to come first.
c. Take her to a concert, dance and sing, get in touch with the memory and passion of humanity. Something in that will tell you what to do.
d. Blackmail the heck out of her.
e. Gossip with your entire extended family. Nobody will know what to do, individually, but together you’ll probably figure something out.
3. You need to dig up a fact about something that happened a few centuries ago. Where do you go?
a. It’s more important to know how the fact’s remembered than what exactly happened. Consult the histories handed down in writing and spoken word by generations of griots.
b. Everything important is literally recorded in stone or frozen in vaults. Do you really need to know, though? It’s inconvenient to open those.
c. Try to infer the real history from the works of hundreds of warlord-artists, all of whom hated each other. If one of them is your ancestor, get mad at all the others.
d. Assemble all available records. Assume everyone is lying. Recruit a hundred students to write summaries for you. Choose the result most useful to your agenda. Promote the good students. Write the rest letters of recommendation to your rival’s office.
e. Ask the traders passing through. Once you have everyone’s perspective, you’ll have a holistic idea of what happened.
4. You’ve been put in charge of a war. What are your priorities?
a. Assemble the finest warriors. Everyone gets a cool name to use in stories. When the enemy is defeated, throw them a party and treat them with respect. You don’t really win until they like you.
b. People are precious. Build heavy armor for our skilled warriors. Back them up with apprentices and attendants. Advance slowly, like an iron tide. Quality over quantity.
c. Ferocity and momentum win the day. Confuse and disorient the enemy with lightning maneuver and charismatic colors. Strike deep and behead their leadership.
d. If I am in a war, then I have arranged for certain victory before the first shot was fired. And if not, I should surrender at once. Wars are too risky.
e. Wars wound societies. Send a few champions to challenge theirs. Settle it with minimum bloodshed. This has to stop before it harms crops or children.
5. What’s your favorite animal?
a. The bee.
b. The wolf.
c. The horse.
d. The octopus, or cuttlefish.
e. The falcon.
6. Your new subordinate turns out to be incredibly capable. What’s your first assignment?
a. Get really drunk with them. Stagger home in the early morning slapping each other on the back. Now that you know them, buy them gifts.
b. Take them on a tour of your responsibilities. If they share your pride, you know it’ll be a good relationship.
c. Go riding with them, play sports or a game, have an argument. You need to see their true character.
d. Send them into a compromising situation. Get annotated documents placing them there, so you can rein them in if they get any ideas.
e. Tell them all your hopes and dreams, touching off either a productive partnership, a torrid affair, or years of drama and rivalry.
7. You are the leader of a country. One of your neighbors is much stronger than you. What do you do?
a. Keep doing your thing. You’ve made it this far, right? As long as you act with compassion, the world won’t let you be conquered. The world is just.
b. Turtle up. Fortify everything. If it’s to be a hundred year siege, dig your cisterns a hundred years deep.
c. To hell with them! Who do they think they are? Posture like an angry peacock, and if they look like they want a fight, hit first.
d. Conceal your strength, and search out their weaknesses. Turn them against each other. Be ready to step into any gap they open with a helping hand, a smile, and sweet poison.
e. Make an arrangement. Let’s be realistic: it’s your only hope of saving anything.
8. Which power would you want?
a. The power to speak and hear every tongue. Never be misunderstood or misconstrued. Heal all hurts and make peace of every war.
b. The power to conjure water and food, to make the world fertile. Be a wellspring for the hungry.
c. The power to rule. Resources are useless without coordination. If you can lead, you can make the world better.
d. The power to teach. What you say will be remembered, treasured, studied, and passed down for generations. Your laws can shape the future.
e. The power to know. You will have a name for every star in the sky and every worm in the earth.
9. You are madly in love. It might be unrequited. What do you do?
a. Think yourself in circles, get hung up on guilt and the desire to be a good friend, burn up with jealousy, and drive your friends and family a little crazy. Have a heartfelt conversation when it might be too late.
b. Will this relationship help your family? Your friends? You have to put that first.
c. Amp up the tension! Hit on them! Be rivals! Fight them! If that doesn’t work, have a bunch of a flings with other people, whether it makes you happy or miserable.
d. Make fools of your rivals, advance your own social standing, dress finely, and get just a bit of authority over the object of your affections. To make yourself tantalizing.
e. Ask your other lovers if they mind you making a suit.
10. What’s your weapon of choice?
a. The bonds of power that connect human beings into a greater community. They can’t hurt you if they can’t want to — or if you’ve got friends.
b. A greatsword and a suit of plate armor.
c. A cavalry lance, a short bow, and a good horse.
d. Pen, ink, and money.
e. The smoldering conviction that charges your soul.
Tally up your responses!
If you mostly answered A, you’d be right at home in the Oriati Mbo, an ancient civilization of artists, philosophers, scholars, and adventurers that hugs the southern border of the Ashen Sea. Oriati life is governed by a philosophy called trim, a form of etiquette that shapes a person’s fate according to their contributions to the world around them (although ancient practices of cancer-worship are on the rebound). The Oriati people elect families to give birth to Federal Princes, who are raised to rule the Mbo. The Oriati have spent the last few decades getting kicked around by the upstart Imperial Republic of Falcrest, to their dismay. The Oriati are notable for doing things because they sound great, for their elective three-gendered social system (men, women, and lamen; children choose their gender), and for their civilization’s enduring age. They speak Seti-Caho, Uburu, and other languages.
If you mostly answered B, you’re a happy fit for the Stakhieczi Necessity, who live in the Wintercrest Mountains north of Aurdwynn. The Stakhieczi are masters of engineering and architecture. Stakhi populations are severely restricted by available salt and arable land, and by the resulting internal warfare, but this has created a firm tradition of duty, loyalty, and responsibility. Epidemic disease menaces the Stakhieczi, but they still put up a spirited centuries-long fight against the Tu Maia invaders in Aurdwynn. The Stakhieczi are notable for their love of astronomy, their heavy infantry tactics, and their efforts to cross the Mother of Storms to the east — even though they’re not very good at boats. They would very much like more farmland. They speak Stakhi and Iolynic.
If you mostly answered C, you’re a joyful member of the Tu Maia diaspora, the energetic and irrepressible people who swept down off the western steppes. Imperial conquerors with superb heavy cavalry tactics and excellent farming skills, the Maia also carried a rich cultural heritage, including many of the mathematical principles that ended up in Falcrest (via Oriati Mbo). Although the Maia imperial heartland was eager to conquer, the conquerors they sent out settled on a policy of fighting, marrying, constructing, exploring, singing along with, and generally enlivening everyone they met, making the period of Maia expansionism both one of the most deadly and exciting parts of local history. Exactly what happened to the Tu Maia homeland is unknown. The Maia are notable for their culture, their large group families, their many rival philosophies, and their love of horses. Today, many Maia people live in Aurdwynn, the messy feudal region on the north of the Ashen Sea. They speak Urun and Iolynic.
If you mostly answered D, you are a quality citizen of the Imperial Republic of Falcrest, also known as the Empire of Masks or the Masquerade! After centuries living under an unreliable monarchy, you rose up against the Old Names, establishing an egalitarian technocratic republic run by strict bureaucracy, great education, and a lot of creepy chemistry. You hate armies, love navies, and earnestly want to control the whole Ashen Sea in order to improve it with sanitation and trade…and with eugenics, psychological conditioning, and sneaky covert operations. Since your victory over Oriati Mbo in the Armada War, the chemical fire used by your Navy has become the most coveted weapon in local civilization. Falcresti are notable for their excellent standards of living, sanctimonious behavior, and attempts to explain the origin of all life through science. They speak Aphalone.
If you mostly answered E, you might like Baru’s home, the island of Taranoke! Settled in ages past by Tu Maia explorers trying to find the fabled land of Uxia Tu Imbo, Taranoke is an island a bit southwest of the center of the Ashen Sea. While the Taranoki are stereotyped as hedonistic primitives, they’re actually a vigorous trading culture, gathering information and currency to barter with visitors from every quarter of the Ashen Sea. The Taranoki practice partible paternity, in which a child may be seen to have multiple fathers, and group marriage, in which marriages may consist of a network of sexual or social liasons between many men and women. Taranoke is notable for its internal rivalries, its status as a keen and neutral student of Ashen Sea history and politics, and — unfortunately — its strategic position as a naval base, which has drawn the attention of the Masquerade. They speak Urunoki.
If you mostly answered F, we’re so sorry! F is not present on this quiz. The Belthyc natives who once flourished in Aurdwynn suffered through centuries of invasion and counter-invasion by the Stakhieczi and Tu Maia. Their culture has largely been assimilated by the occupiers…but their language and religion live on in Aurdwynn, as Iolynic and the ykari faith, respectively. And groups of Belthyc still survive in the forests along Aurdwynn’s northern border.
If you mostly answered G, you really shouldn’t be here yet.
If your score is tied or nearly tied between two letters, awesome! The Ashen Sea is a place of cosmopolitan cultural interchange.
If you’re an AB, you are a very rare creature, belonging to the Oriati and Stakhieczi cultures — about as far apart as it’s possible to get. But sea travel up and down the Mother of Storms may have put you in contact.
If you’re an AC, you’re a good fit for the Oriati and the Tu Maia. The Tu Maia invaded the Oriati federations in centuries past, but found the climate difficult and the people very friendly. The Oriati settled them down and made family of them.
If you’re an AD, you’re torn between the Oriati and Falcrest. The land border between these two great powers is the site of both unrest and exchange. You probably live in this area, torn between a heritage that calls for compassion and Falcrest’s technology of scientific and ideological control.
If you’re an AE, you’re a child of Oriati Mbo and Taranoke! Oriati traders often call on Taranoke, and Taranoki often visit Segu. Relations have been good…but the recent Falcresti colonization of Taranoke has made your life far more difficult.
If you’re a BC, you fall between the Stakhieczi masons and the Tu Maia. Congratulations! You live in Aurdwynn, where there are thousands and thousands of people like you. Aurdwynn is a mutt. Consider Duchess Vultjag, the much-loathed Tain Hu: a woman with a Maia personal name, ruling a Stakhi duchy, in a land with more surviving Belthyc clans than anywhere else, and a land now occupied by Falcrest.
If you’re a BD, you are a rare union of the Stakhieczi and Falcrest. Falcrest is terrified of the Stakhieczi Necessity, which has been isolated and silent for some time. Falcrest wants to know if the Stakhieczi are planning another land invasion. But Stakhi families in Aurdwynn have certainly married or met with the Falcresti occupiers, making you an emblem of one of the world’s great political tensions.
If you’re a BE, you are an even rarer union of the Stakhieczi and the people of Taranoke! I don’t know how you got from the mountains to the island, or from the island to the mountains. Likely the thread connecting you is Tu Maia, since Taranoke was connected to Tu Maia families in Aurdwynn, where many Stakhieczi live. You are a far voyager, the product of two very opposite climates and societies.
If you’re a CD, you fall between the Tu Maia and Falcrest. The Falcresti have a particular fascination with the Tu Maia, whose imperial downfall they blame on unhygienic mating…and whose imperial rise they credit to some kind of hereditary, biological vitality, an inborn will to conquer. The grotesque authorities of Falcresti eugenics are very interested in you…but I suspect you will make your own life, as your own person.
If you’re a CE, you fall between the Tu Maia and Taranoke, and neither one can probably tell you from the other! While there are huge cultural differences between the broader Maia diaspora and Taranoke, the two populations are biologically quite similar. You can happily move between these worlds, both in body and in your philosophy.
If you’re a DE, you are an unlikelihood and a marvel. Falcrest only came recently to Taranoke, and their coming was cataclysmic. But the newest Masquerade province has produced some children of both heritages…whether in biology or in ideology. One of them is Baru Cormorant, born in a Taranoki family but raised in a Masquerade school…
If you’re trying to make hybrids with F and G, well, aren’t YOU inquisitive.
If you refuse to identify yourself with a complex sociopolitical heritage on the basis of ten questions, I salute your principles.
Thanks for playing! I hope you had fun, and that you feel like you learned something about yourself.
PS: If you’re very curious, here are the answers given by some characters in the book:
Baru: D A D D E B D E A D (but she’s lying about the last one, it’s E), Falcrest dominant
Muire Lo: E C B D B B D A A D, Falcrest/Tu Maia
Aminata: C B E C E A B C C B, Tu Maia dominant! Unexpected.
Cousin Lao: A C D E E B D E D A, Falcrest/Taranoke, although #9 could flip E for dominant Taranoke
Tain Hu: C A C C B C C C C C, Tu Maia dominant
Xate Olake: D B E D A D D E B D, Falcrest dominant
Xate Yawa: D D D D D D D C D E, terrifying
Already the subject of much buzz on both sides of the Atlantic, The Traitor is the first in an epic new trilogy with a strong female heroine at the heart of story. When Baru Cormorant’s home is colonised by the Empire of Masks, she decides to rise through the ranks of the system that criminalized her customs and destroyed her home, in an attempt to crush the power from the inside. Nail-bitingly tense, The Traitor packs an emotional punch that will leave you reeling long after you’ve read the last page.
Amazon UK Link.
Amazon US Link.
Seth Dickinson’s Website.
Seth Dickinson’s Twitter.