Review: I Must Betray You

As a huge fan of Ruta Sepetys’ work, I snapped up the chance to review her latest book instantly. Yet again, she shows her prowess at casting a light on a lesser known part of history.

This post originally appeared on The Nerd Daily.

Cristian has lived his entire life in the grip of a repressive dictatorship. The country is governed by fear. When the secret police blackmail him, Cristian has an impossible choice. Save the life of his sick grandfather by informing on his family, or risk his life – and all of theirs – by resisting? 

At 17, Cristian dreams of being free but doesn’t know where to turn. In this climate of constant suspicion, can he trust his best friend, his girlfriend or even his family?

Closely based on the real events of the Romanian Revolution of 1989, this is a powerful, heart-breaking thriller from the award-winning YA author of Salt to the Sea.

TW: blood, confinement, death, death of parent, emotional and physical abuse, genocide, grief, injury/injury detail, murder, police brutality, poisoning, stalking, violence, torture, gun violence, chronic illness, war, cancer

Goodreads | Waterstones

My Thoughts:

Yet again, Ruta Sepetys has blown my mind. 

I Must Betray You is such a claustrophobic read, making you constantly on edge and checking over your shoulder. 

Sepetys sheds light on another little-known part of history: the brutal regime of Romania in 1989. I must admit to knowing very little about this period of history, but Sepetys ensures you are well-furnished with enough facts for the story. After researching Nicolae Ceaușescu and his dictatorship, I now appreciate this book even more and Sepetys’ dedication to ensuring these aspects of history are not forgotten or erased. Her previou works have had this spirit and ultimate message to them, acting as jumping off points to continue your own research and being brilliant books at the same time.

I appreciate just how extensively Sepetys researches her work and this definitely shines through in the finished product. This is an incredibly detailed fleshing out of this part of history. Also, at the back of the book and through her author’s notes, Sepetys ensures that the spark lit by this book can be fed through further reading and research. She brings the history to life and then passes it over to the reader for them to continue. That complete dedication to truth in the face of horror is a running theme in her books and reminds us of our duty to preserve history, even the parts that may be obscured and hidden by external forces. 

The story itself is genuinely haunting and will stay in my mind. Right from that chilling opening, Sepetys has you in the palm of her hand. This book could be described as a historical thriller with elements of spy fiction, a coming of age narrative and an intimate tale of family and love. That opening sets the scene perfectly, making the reader aware of the historical context and instantly putting them on edge. Sepetys is relentless after this. She never, ever lets up on this thick, choking atmosphere of paranoia and fear that circles our characters. Even reading, I felt like someone was just peering over my shoulder or standing just out of the corner of my eye. In this way, she captures that very real sense of surveillance perpetuated by the regime. Anyone and everyone could be listening to every word you were saying and reporting back on your every action. 

This truly is a tale of treachery and betrayal. Cristian cannot trust anyone or anything around him, not even the people he loves most deeply. He is an exceptional main character, resolved to follow his dreams in a world that only wants to crush them. His loyalty and dedication to his friends and family was wonderful, but it made the moral dilemma he becomes enmeshed in that much more difficult. His blackmail and constant surveillance is heart-wrenching to read, especially as Sepetys includes snippets of this continued surveillance and assessment of his usefulness. The twists and turns in this story are so emotionally explosive, because they come from these characters you’ve grown to love. Sepetys does try to warn you though, as Cristian cannot trust anyone around him. That constant sense of being on edge and paranoid is such a suffocating and enclosing feeling. Sepetys conveys this amazingly, with the pacing remaining relentless throughout. The writing style flows so well, making it an effortless reading experience and serving to pull you even further into the story. 

I Must Betray You is another smash hit story from the undisputed reigning monarch of YA historical fiction. Sepetys’ dedication to uncovering and highlighting obscured parts of history is unparalleled and highly commendable. 

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