Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Traitor Game by B.R. Collins

2696409379_3d0a6129ff Now Rosy and I both know that B.R. Collins is actually called Bridget since we heard her read a passage from this very book in a tent in some gardens in Edinburgh. We were both intrigued by the excerpt, but afterwards when Anthony McGowan (still not sure I can call him Tony!) insisted it was one of the best books he had read in a long time, I had to buy it.  And he was right.

The Traitor Game is almost like two for the price of one – and I’m a sucker for a bargain.  There are two narratives running through the story, separate, yet thematically linked in an extraordinarily clever way.  It begins in the real world with Michael who moved schools due to horrific bullying and is introduced to Francis, a friend his mum has found him.  The effects of the cruelty on Michael are marked; he’s mistrustful, insecure, closed off.  He wonders constantly why a self-assured, cool guy like Francis would be friends with him.  And this forms the basis of the emotional pull in the story.  Michael has invented a fantasy world called Evgard and Francis is fascinated.  Soon the boys are consumed with the creation and management of their world, drawing maps, working out what to call things, inventing fantasy contraptions.  One of the things I love most about the book is that this is not a computerised game they’re playing, this is paper, pens, visits to real castles for inspiration.  It’s real life.

The second, shorter narrative, is set in Evgard where Michael’s equivalent is called Argent, a Merish boy who has been captured by a wealthy conquering army. Evgard is a real fantasy, sword and sorcery world with cruel tyrant rulers and poverty stricken, oppressed masses.  Argent becomes friends with one of his captors but is faced with the opportunity to betray him and help his own people.

Back in the real world, when Michael mistakenly believes Francis has betrayed their secret world and is laughing at him behind his back, his lack of trust and inability to say what he thinks leads them into terrible trouble.

Themes echo in each strand, although neither meet; betrayal, friendship, loyalty and homosexuality.  The writing is glorious; in the real world it’s sharp and modern, in the fantasy it’s lyrical and extravagant.  If I had any complaint it would just be a small one, that sometimes some of the angsting was a tad overdone and I occasionally wanted to boot Michael up the backside for stammering and stuttering instead of speaking up.  But then, I’m a grown-up and I usually just say what I think and he’s a teen who rarely does.

I could hardly put The Traitor Game down, neither strand dominated the other for me, both were equally compelling.  B.R. Collins has pulled of an extraordinary feat of writing in this book, two thematically meshed stories with resonating ideas but, for me, both equally outstanding in their uniqueness.  A tour de force… Tony was right!

More reviews of The Traitor Game on My Favourite Books and Bookwitch

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve used to have full time job as a children's bookseller and she was the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love was definitely literature for children and teens, about which she has nerd-level knowledge. However she has since become involved in grown-up books and has co-written her first adult novel with Cath Murphy. Eve and Cath Podcast, blog and have far too much fun on their website Domestic Hell. Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website :

8 comments on “The Traitor Game by B.R. Collins

  1. Jackie
    September 20, 2008

    What a wonderfully enthusiastic review! If I was the author, I’d be very pleased. It sounds like a book that might inspire kids to create their own fantasy worlds. And it seems to tackle real life issues, such as bullying, in an understanding way. The cover art is attractive too, and seems to underline the themes of the story. As always, Eve, your personal anecdotal touch adds warmth & humor to the review.

  2. betsy
    September 21, 2008

    Hi! The black box sent me! 🙂

  3. wakeupandsmellthecoffee
    September 21, 2008

    Hello. I’ve never read your blog before, but I keep doing the Black Box, and no what my choices are, they still lead me here. Interesting review of this book.

  4. Eve
    September 21, 2008

    Hi Jackie and thank you for your very kind words 🙂 It does tackle bullying very well and actually gives an exceptionally good account of the fall out from bullying… the mindset of the victim afterwards and the way this effects their behaviour – a very important lesson, I think.

    hello you Black Boxers… what an addictive widget that is, I’ve been all over the place 🙂

  5. DJ Kirkby
    September 21, 2008

    The widget brought me here. What a great blog you have.

  6. Catherine Czerkawska
    September 22, 2008

    A lovely review that makes me want to go out and buy the book. With one little ‘but’. Except that it occurs so often on literary websites that I have to comment.
    What is wrong with computer games? Why would two boys inventing a fantasy world NOT think of it in digital terms at some level? Why should a world invented on paper be any more ‘real’ than a digital world? I don’t mean that they wouldn’t start with pens and paper, drawings, words, research. Because they probably would. And I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t comment on the evocation of this world. But the digital world would also, I think, be a part of the fantasy for boys of this age. As inevitable as breathing and just as much a part of life. And – which is really the point I want to make – I get the distinct feeling that, as writers, we ignore all those immense possibilities at our peril. Mentally we are stuck with Pacman and Pong while the kids are inventing a whole new universe and wondering why we are so afraid to put our toes in the water!

  7. Eve
    September 22, 2008

    Hi DJ Kirkby, loving those Black Boxes 🙂

    Hi Catherine and thank you so much for visiting and for commenting.

    Oh please don’t let the *but* put you off. I’ll try to explain… I’ve read my fair share of teen boy books recently, I’ve no idea how that’s happened – it’s a mystery. Anyway, in all of them, it may just be a co-incidence, but there’s texting going on and Googling and a fair amount of modern technology.

    In The Traitor Game though not only do they draw out their maps and their inventions but they travel on trains and buses to go and visit castles where they wander around with a tape measure taking notes of dimensions. They do hands on research which takes them out into the world, experiencing it first hand and I kind of liked that.

    Now it may just be that I have read too many books with modern technology in them recently that this struck home with me at this time. But it did stand out for me since their research was so precise and “real world” that it impressed me. I also think the paper drawings helped to link the fantasy thread of the story which was more olde worlde… ish… if you see what I mean.

    But I totally agree with you… I think we ignore *anything* modern kids are interested in at our peril 🙂

  8. Tony McGowan
    September 29, 2008

    Eve – great review of a brilliant book. It’s lingered in my head in a way that few books do. Mal Peet also gave it an excellent review in the Guardian last Saturday. Keep up the good work!

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2008 by in Entries by Eve, Fiction: young adult and tagged , , , .



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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