“Tonight the moonlight makes the floor of the Great Hall into a game board.”First line in The Betrayals by Bridget Collins
Author: Bridget Collins
Published: November 12th, 2020
Genre: Literary Something (?)
Buzzwords: Elite school, alternate reality, dark academia
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…
If you go to the Goodreads page for The Betrayals, you’ll find that it has been shelved under practically every genre possible. They are all wrong and they are all correct as this book has taken small pieces from a lot of genres and made its own little hybrid. We’re mostly leaning towards something that could be described as Literary Fiction, though with a teeny tiny bit of fantasy.
The genre isn’t the only mystery in this book, and it’s generally hard to talk about without spoiling something. A part of the reading experience is being confused at the beginning of this story because Collins is easing you in very slowly all while giving you small clues to ponder. Despite all this, I’m going to try and give you a clearer idea of what this book actually is by being very vague.
We’re dealing with a bit of a dark academia setting as the entire story takes place at an elite all-boys school called Montverre, which is hidden away in the mountains. Where, and even when, this school is exactly is a mystery to the reader. Collins throws some hints at you here and there (some are helpful, others only add to the confusion), and I personally found myself googling random information during my read-through. The setting itself isn’t given much attention beyond that, so if your favorite part of any book is the world-building, this is not for you.
The story is told through four POVs with two of those being the same person, although a past and a present version. That part also adds to the confusion.
What every character in this book has in common is that none of them are nice. It’s one big bunch of unlikeable characters with some just being slightly less unlikable than others so you have someone to root for. The exploration of these characters and why they are like that is one of the major themes of the book, and I especially enjoyed how that past POV was used to do that. And it is an incredibly character-focused book. It doesn’t have much in terms of plot as a lot of the story is about unveiling what happened in the past and how that has affected the characters in the present.
There’s a lot of social commentary in this book’s themes. I can’t say too much about that they are, but I do want to highlight the attention given to women’s role in this alternate-but-close-to-our-own reality. It is subtly portrayed through different female characters, and by the end, it was my favorite part of the book.
That’s about all I can say about themes because it is amazing to figure them out as you read.
Final Thoughts – Who Do I Recommend It To?
I’m not sure that helped anyone figure out if this is a book for them. It’s really a book where knowing as little as possible going in is the way to go. I recommend it to readers who are all about characters and don’t mind that they’re a little rough around the edges. I’m also guessing it will work for readers who enjoy magical realism or at least don’t mind it in their books. Finally, I can see very visual readers have problems with this as there aren’t a whole lot of descriptions. A large part of the book consists of diary entries and those don’t naturally tell you what a room looks like, you know.
And to make it perfectly clear: I freaking loved this book!