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.
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!