The Traitor Game by B. R. Collins (review copy) - WARNING! I cannot discuss the LGBTQ themes in this book without soiling certain aspects of it. Read no further if you're planning on reading this book and don't want it spoilt for you.
There was a folded bit of A4 paper wedged into the locker. It said MICHAEL THOMPSON. Michael slid it out, and flipped it open. It said I KNOW WHERE ARCASTER IS. That was when the bottom dropped out of everything.
Michael and Francis are best friends at school, drawn together by their common secret - a complete obsession with creating, crafting, adding to and poring over their joint fantasy world, Evgard. Their friendship is put to the severest test when Michael, thinking that Francis has betrayed their world, takes the cold, deliberate decision not to help Francis when Francis is the victim of a brutal attack. Michael then has to see the consequences of his mistake, and confront his own weaknesses. This absolutely compelling charting of the boys' friendship is reflected in the fantasy world, as the fantasy characters and their actions are a clear mirror of the boys' own actions in the real world. From Amazon UK
When I first heard about this novel, I was really intrigued; a story where the fantasy world created by two boys is affected by what happens in their own lives. I was really excited to read it, and it was so good!
Having been severely bullied at his previous school, Michael has decided to keep himself mostly to himself, and spends all his spare time focusing on Evgard, the fantasy world he created. His best friend Francis is the only person who knows about Evgard, and together, they create histories, maps, individual stories, cultures and wars, like a real story. But then someone finds out about Evgard, Michael is certain that Francis, the only person he trusted, has has been laughing at his the whole time, telling other people what a loser he is. As their friendship struggles with trust issues, similar events are happening to Argent, a boy in Evgard who has been captured by the Duke's soldiers.
The two narratives are just so awesome! At first I didn't think I would enjoy the Evgard story much, but I actually loved it! It got to a point where when contemporary chapters ended I wanted more, and when Evgard chapters ended I wanted more of them! Each narrative is compelling, and although there are mirrored themes of trust and friendship between two boys, Michael and Argent, the stories are very different, so you're not entirely sure by reading one where the other is going to go. It was exciting! I just wished there was a little bit more in Evgard, I would have liked to have seen Argent's friendship with Columen, a boy he meets, grow a little more.
Bullying is a massive theme in The Traitor Game. Michael was bullied so badly at his last school, to the point where he tries not to think about it and we're never really told exactly what happened. We're given hints, and it's absolutely disgusting. Michael has been damaged by what happened to him, and so is very wary of people now. He will avoid confrontation at all costs, even if it means leaving a helpless young boy to be tormented by the school bullies. He is just so weak because he's been crushed so many times. His behaviour is sometimes pathetic, and you feel sorry for him but also disgust about him at the same time. Some of the things he does in this book out of cowardice or to hurt people are unbelievable. And the bullying we witness by other people is just horrific.You can't read this and not be affected by what you read, it's just impossible.
Now, the LGBTQ aspects of the book. Michael believes Francis has betrayed him in regards to Evgard, and they have a non-discussion about it, a vague conversation. But what Francis thinks Michael has "sussed out" is that he's gay, and that he's reacting the way he is because he's appalled. I picked up this book because I was recommended it as a book for the Month, so I knew it dealt with LGBTQ aspects somehow, but not how. Once they had this non-conversation, it was quite clear to me that Francis is gay, but I don't know what I would have thought if I didn't know it. However, because I did, despite the misunderstanding, I couldn't help feeling sorry for how Francis was treated by Michael, and seeing how he felt through his words and actions, god, it just breaks your heart. Francis even tried to save his friendship with Michael, despite thinking that Michael was being the awful git he was because he was repulsed by Francis' sexuality. Michael felt that he was the victim, but every word he said was obviously like a knife into Francis' heart, and he couldn't understand why. Homophobia is also covered in this book, but it's tied in with the bullying, and isn't discussed separately.
The Traitor Game is an awesome story of misunderstandings, trust and betrayal, and friendship. There's something about the language that had me really enjoying reading even though things were grim most of the way through, and for a first novel, it's just amazing! I will definitely be looking into B. R. Collins' other novels. Such a good story, such a great idea, and a brilliant way to look at various serious issues. I highly recommend you give this book a go!
Published: 7th September 2009
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