reviewed by Linda McCutcheon
“…I spent last night thinking about you, wondering if I could tell you…swear you to secrecy, sure that you’d never betray me…it’s over…If they find out what I did…do I trust you? You’ve always been jealous…No one can ever know.”
Desperate words that could honestly be written by almost any of the complicit characters in the unique genre-defying The Betrayals by Bridget Collins.
It is not easy to explain this story without giving anything away. The revelations, at least for me, were startling and should be enjoyed and digested by each reader on this literary journey.
This novel takes place in what I would describe as an alternate universe. The country sounds like France during the 1930s as fascism was trying to rule Europe. Leo Martin has just been forced to resign from his political post for disagreeing with the leaders of the new Party. He is sent to the all-male academy Montverre, where he was once a Gold Medalist in the country’s national game the Grand Jeu. He is not happy because the academy holds memories of a tragedy he has fought to forget, especially the part he believes he played in it.
Now this game the Grand Jeu I cannot explain because it is never fully explained in the book. It combines math, music, philosophy, dance, performance, and life lessons. Men have been competing in the game for centuries trying to perfect it. They have lied, cheated, and maybe even killed to win it.
When Leo arrives at the school, he meets Claire who is the first and only woman to become the Magister Ludi. This title is equivalent to a Dean of students. Leo feels something familiar about her and their relationship is the heart of this story. What Leo is slow to figure out, and I was completely oblivious to, is that Claire has many secrets including one about the tragedy that has haunted him for over twenty years.
Through Leo’s memories of being a student we learn the pressures of being a participant of this abstract game and what one is willing to do for the highest score in it. Leo befriends Carfax, the school outcast, when they are forced to work together. He quickly realizes Carfax is a genius at this game but that may not be a good thing for Leo.
This novel has a bit of every genre in it. There is historical fiction, psychological thriller moments, murder, and every other page is filled with mystery.
I asked to read and review this book because of my love for the author’s debut adult novel The Bindings. Though The Betrayals is a completely different type of story the one thing consistent in both books is mesmerizing prose that keeps you drawn into the story. There were times I was not sure what was going on like the first time The Rat is introduced as a secretive character. I was fascinated and intrigued by where The Rat would lead me. I was not disappointed at all with the journey.
The ending gives us assumptions as to where some of the players are headed but I could not help but feel that without the political climate being resolved nothing was guaranteed for anyone in this world. Hopefully, the author will consider a sequel with a more definitive conclusion.
If you enjoy slow burns, character driven plots, secretive government intrigue, backstabbing betrayals, unlikely love stories and riveting descriptive writing this book is worth your time.