I received a complimentary audio ARC of The Betrayals by Bridget Collins from HarperCollins UK Audio in exchange for an honest review via NetGalley. This has not swayed my opinion. My thoughts are my own and my review is honest.
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About the Book
by Bridget Collins
Published 12 November 2020
by William Morrow
Page Count: 416
Audiobook published by HarperCollins Audio UK
Length: 15 hr 12 min
Genre: Historical Fiction, Magical Realism
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If everything in your life was based on a lie, would you risk it all to tell the truth?
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…
My Rating: 5 Stars! (Consider “liking” my review on Goodreads)
The Betrayals is a UK setting historical fiction with an alternate history vibe that takes place mostly at a prestigious boys school called Montverre, where the worthy youth of society dedicate their lives to studying the grand jeu. The story is told by flipping back and forth between two points in time and three points of view: Léo Martin as a student at Montverre, Léo now as a disgraced politician banished back to Montverre, Claire Dryden as the first female Magister Ludi (present timeline,) and an otherwise nameless girl who calls herself “the Rat” and lives in the shadows at Montverre in the present. Everything keeps coming back to the grande jeus of Léo’s school days, his relationship with classmate Aimé Carfax de Courcey (Carfax) and how much Claire reminds him of his late friend.
The political party Léo is affiliated with is trying to pass cultural reform laws that outlaw Christianity, imported literature, and other things from the world beyond their borders that would progress and change the status quo. Montverre very much reflects that oppressive stuck in the past nature while pretending it isn’t involved in politics at all. The only women who are seen on campus (besides Claire, whose sex was not known until after her election) are servants. Students aren’t permitted to read newspapers or (oddly enough) use mirrors.
I’m certainly not Léo’s biggest fan, but I don’t think we’re supposed to be. He’s selfish, obtuse, naive, and although only occasionally impulsive, always at the worst possible time. Despite this, Bridget Collins has done a wonderful job of still ensuring that we empathize with him. We feel bad whenever things don’t go his way through no intentional fault of his own. We root for him when he realizes he’s in love. We’re devastated for him when misunderstandings and manipulation lead to Léo losing the people and things most important to him.
Although Claire is frustratingly narrow-minded at times, I really enjoyed reading her. She’s proud to be the only woman instructor at this school, let alone Magister Ludi, and she isn’t going to accept one single iota of disrespect. Her hate-filled obsession with Léo and his past due to her sibling status with schooldays friend and classmate Carfax is a major plot driver, and I appreciate the fact that we the audience are let in on the brother-sister relation long before Léo figures it out because I don’t think it would have worked otherwise. All the same, it’s a little bit weird that she starts reading Léo’s stolen second-year diary the moment he appears at Montverre. Presumably, she’s had access to it ever since it was taken from him all those years ago, but it’s unclear if she’s reading it for the first time. Either she has held onto it for over a decade and is only now reading it because his presence reminded her, or she’s re-reading it now that he’s here, possibly to ensure the rage fire is well stoked.
I adored Carfax the whole way through! He’s a fairly typical misunderstood tortured soul character but in the most charming way, and the way he handles the pranks and jibes from his classmates with detached disappointment is so perfect. We know from all the POVs in the present that Carfax dies, that’s not a spoiler or a shock, but knowing doesn’t dampen the sting of his death when it comes.
Léo’s school friends turned political colleagues are perfectly deplorable.
“The rat” is a very interesting POV to read but I didn’t feel that all of her parts were necessary. She and a character named Simon have most definitely been set up for an interesting plotline in a potential sequel, but I really feel like her parts in The Betrayals could have been presented as a past timeline jump in said potential sequel. Without spoiling the thing she does one important thing near the end and it felt to me that all of her parts leading up to that event were an attempt to make her more than a convenient plot device, but it didn’t really work. If this book is to get a sequel then including her story from this book’s chunk of the timeline in that future book could serve to answer the audience’s questions about said event as a little easter egg. The event is perfectly fine presented from Claire’s and Léo’s POVs without the Rat’s as well.
This book makes a lot of cautionary comments on xenophobia, sexism, classism, religious discrimination, and homophobia, and I loved that aspect. There is so much social commentary here that I could easily re-read it several times over and find new things to consider each time. My one complaint is that there is a victory of sorts against one of those things in the student Léo sections that is marred (in my opinion) by something in the present-day timeline POVs that sheds a different light on that aspect of the past. I really wish I could be more specific, but there are huge spoilers tangled up in that, so I can’t. Feel free to find me on my blog (westveilpublishing.com) and use my contact email or linked socials if you want to have a spoiler-filled discussion of this point or any other aspect of this book!
I was granted access to the audio ARC, not an eARC, so I do want to comment on the narration before I close this off. The audiobook is narrated by an ensemble cast including Bridget Collins, Sam Woolf, and Sarah Ovens. They all did an excellent job of performing clearly and with appropriate energy for each changing scene. I was never confused about which character was speaking or, in Léo’s case, whether we were in the past or the present. I comfortably listened at my usual 1.25-1.5x speed. 5 stars for performance!
Content warning: off-page suicide, on-page non-gory murder, frank discussion of depression and mental decline.
About the Author
Bridget Collins trained as an actor at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after reading English at King’s College, Cambridge. She is the author of seven acclaimed books for young adults and has had two plays produced, one at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. The Binding is her first adult novel. She lives in Kent, United Kingdom.
Author bio borrow from HarperCollins and photo from Goodreads.
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