In an exclusive institution tucked away in the mountains the best and brightest study an arcane and mysterious game, as they have for centuries. But times are changing, and traditions being overturned – the truth will come out…
The Betrayals tells the tale of the ongoings at the all male school Montverre, that practices the beloved grand jeu, meanwhile exploring outside impact on the school from an increasingly hostile society.
We follow Lèo Martin (a disgraced politician and former school pupil of Montverre), Magister Dryden (the first female teacher in the history of Montverre) Lèo’s journal entries from his school days and occasionally from the character the Rat.
The Betrayals is an intricately composed story, that for all its brilliance, the writing was hard to read. I ended up having to resort to the audiobook to persevere, which revived my interest in the story. I absorbed and understood what was happening more than I did solely reading the kindle. The narrators did a really good job. I 100% recommend the audiobook for a better experience of the story.
The novel tells the tale of elitism and a growing dystopian government prosecuting certain factions of society that aren’t the wealthy, Catholics or men. It’s infecting infrastructure, such as Montverre, with their conservative views and threatening the essence of the fantastical world within its walls.
This made the character Magister Dryden very interesting and very important, as she’s the only woman who teaches at the school. She goes up against misogyny time and time again, where many male characters count her extremely lucky to get where she’s got and they challenge her authority and resent it too, purely because she’s a woman. It was actually rather sickening to read. The entitlement and superiority Lèo feels and actually projects onto Magister Dryden was infuriating.
So, safe to safe, Lèo’s demeanour and conduct throughout the book, toward Dryden and another character, Carfax, is rather sickening. He’s arrogant – like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast level – and is not a likeable character. Yet he plays an important role in one of the book’s biggest themes: mental health.
The book alludes to and explores a variety of mental health. The sense of loss of a loved one and the grief left behind, deteriorating mental health, the impact and consequence of bullying and subsequent suicide . All of these points in the overarching theme were handled and established extremely well, where when appropriate and provoked enough, had my heart heavy and my blood boiling.
Beyond this, everything else is purposefully vague throughout the read. To be intriguing? To be irritating? Well, it’s a bit of both.
There comes a point when I feel like there are some books that are published with a vision of what the reader’s experience is imagined to be, versus what they’ll actually experience. It’s very difficult because it’s all very subjective, until it isn’t. Until it’s something like The Betrayals. The Betrayals, not to be too grandiose, betrays it’s reader in its difficult readability. It shouldn’t be so hard to connect to a story that has so much in its meat… but yet it is. In fact, there’s arguably too much, with the Rat’s perspective really not needed other than to pull off a plot move. Other than that, the Rat was redundant.
It’s so infuriatingly disappointing, especially when I think back to Emmet and Lucien of The Binding (and many other strands of that story too), and how I fell so hard in love. With The Betrayals, I feel cold toward it, and then confused because I know I shouldn’t, but I do. I say all of that because, The Betrayals should have been much better received by me, especially when I am in awe of just how much Collins put into the story. But it lacked soul between its pages and an overall charisma it sorely needed, which I know for a fact Collins is capable of (The Binding). The Betrayals missed that mark for me unfortunately.
However, the bit we’ve all been waiting for – the grand jeu. The grand jeu – at the heart of the plot – is undefined throughout the entire book.
… Or is it? Collins has masterfully created something that is what you prefer it to be, providing an interactive element for all readers, to contribute their own imagination alongside reading the story. I personally imagined it as a metaphor for how one lives (plays) their life. I wasn’t initially impressed at first, but the more the story goes on and I became familiar with it, I found it endearing. Collins informs us who don’t know in the acknowledgements that the grand jeu is inspired by The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse.
The Betrayals is a deeply subjective experience: to all readers of my review, it’s a personal conclusion as to whether the pay off is worth the work. For this reader, the payoff was most certainly worth the wait. The distant and slow pace is a necessary evil to appreciate this clever story that is a true masterclass of unwrapping a beguiling mystery. I never saw the twists, which was thoroughly delightful and made the book entirely worthwhile. Although, the sorrowful ending sadly took the jubilant feel from the climax, which was disappointing as I felt a more upbeat feel was needed after the leaden bleak weight throughout.
Nonetheless, The Betrayals is one of those books that lingers in the mind, on and on. It works on you, like a kind of hypnotic mesmerised effect. It wasn’t perfect, and it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it was certainly thought provoking about the world we live in and the world we don’t, which will stay with me for some time to come. It’s an extremely distinct yet enjoyable story to read from a wonderful and sleek imagination that leaves me eager to see what Bridget Collins cooks up next.
Thank you kindly to the publishers and Netgalley for providing me with an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.
The Betrayals by Bridget Collins
Published November 2020
Genre: fantasy, mystery, magical realism