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Literature / The Traitor Game

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After being bullied, Michael changes schools. The incident — and his mother's inaction in the face of it — makes it hard for him to trust people again, but this changes when he meets Francis. Francis is a cool and tall redhead who, instead of making fun on him, joins Michael in a game of make-believe, creating a fantasy land called Evgard and its capital, Arcaster. Both boys keep their world hidden safely in a locked box, in the form of maps and poems. Until, of course, Michael gets an anonymous note in his locker saying I KNOW WHERE ARCASTER IS. Fearing that Francis has betrayed him and their secret, Michael decides to take revenge.

The book alternates between Michael and Francis lives in reality (in third person, in Michael's POV) and in the Evgard from Michael's imagination (in first person), where they're known as Argent and Columen, a slave and the Duke's son, involved in an ongoing war between their peoples.

This novel provide examples of:

  • Accidental Truth: Michael's lies about Francis. He only told Shipley that Francis is gay as a revenge, but it turns out to be true.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Luke, Francis's brother who dislikes Michael, to disastrous consequences.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Michael suggests that this is why Shipley likes to pick on gay and effeminate students.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: Michael and Argent may both have betrayed their friends, but their enemies are a homophobic bully and a sadistic rapist, respectively.
  • Break the Cutie: All four of the main characters goes through a lot of breaking. Michael's experience had already started before the novel begins, when he was bullied in his old school.
  • The Bully: Shipley, who is first seen cornering a boy several years younger than him and burning him with a cigarette. He is said to target gay kids specifically.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Michael often behaves like this, to Francis' horror.
  • Character Development: Michael, as seen when he finally stands up to Shipley.
  • Chekhov's Gun: lightlead windows. They're introduced early in the real world plotline, when Francis tells Michael about it as a new idea for Evgard. It's a type of glass that slows down light, meaning what you see through a window made of lightlead glass would be what happened 30 minutes ago. In the climax of the Evgard plotline, Argent uses the view of the half-an-hour-late sunset through a lightlead window to trick some soldiers into thinking there is a fire. It also foreshadows the real world climax in which Michael is pushed out of a window by Shipley.
  • Chess Motifs: The eponymous traitor game appears to be similar to chess. Also, Francis says Michael is "playing a game that no one else knows the rules to".
  • Coming of Age Story: for Michael, although he still has some more Character Development to go through at the end of the novel. He learns to stand up for himself and begins to resolve his trust issues.
  • Conlang: Together with Multilingual Bonus. Mereish and Evgard languages combine a multitude of words from different languages spelt weirdly. Also, lots of Latin.
  • Conflicting Loyalty: Michael's devotion to Evgard and to Francis, and Argent's loyalty to Evgard (specifically, Columen) and to the Mereish.
  • Crapsack World: Evgard, despite Michael's strong belief that Evgard is better than real life. As his imagination reflects the bullying he went through and his distrust of others, it's no wonder.
  • Depraved Bisexual: The Duke, who has Sex Slaves of both gender.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Argent, after helping his people destroy the home of his only friend, and then discovering they were exactly the same kind of evil he thought the Evgard were. Michael and Francis dance along it frequently, but Michael crosses it after he thinks Evgard's been burned and Francis seems to cross it after the beating by Shipley, and realizing Michael just watched.
  • Destination Defenestration:
    • In the Evgard story line, Argent, in an attempt to get Columen and Iaspis to safety, pushes some Mereish soldiers out through some windows.
    • Shipley pushes Michael through a window at one point. When Michael's mother sees him, she is worried that he jumped deliberately. Michael points out that if he had, he would have at least opened the window first.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Michael gets it bad, but Argent? Argent is captured and forced to watch all his friends be killed. He's raped, becomes the Duke's sex slave and is abused by everyone he knows. When he finally makes a friend in Columen, the Duke's son — who looks exactly like him — Argent betrays him to help his people… who turn out to be a bunch of bastards, as evil as the Duke, and who treat him as a traitor just because of his name. Even his childhood friend distrusts him… And then he dies.
  • Disappeared Dad: Michael's mum appears in a number of scenes, but his dad is never mentioned.
  • Double Consciousness: Argent, due to being Mereish, but being friends with Columen, who's Evgard. His mother was also Evgard, giving him an Evgard name that makes the Mereish distrust him.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Readers may realise that Francis is gay before Michael finally learns the truth. Those who realise it before the scene where Michael "lies" to Shipley about Francis being gay would cringe while reading it.
    • From the start, it is quite obvious that Francis didn't really betray their secret. Michael's actions through the novel, however, are based on his belief that he did.
  • Dysfunction Junction: The main duo consists of a former bullying victim and a closeted Stepford Smiler, and their fantasy counterparts don't fare any better at all.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: What Michael and Francis have to go through. A Bittersweet Ending in case of Evgard, as Argent dies protecting Columen, but his death holds the significance that Francis is more important for Michael than Evgard is.
  • Embarrassing First Name: Benedick. The bullies call him "Bent Dick", and Michael's first reaction is ask what the hell his mother was thinking.
  • False Flag Operation: How the Mereish enter Arcaster.
  • False Friend: Michael believes Francis is this, pretending to like him and Evgard just to laugh at him behind his back.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Mereish and the Evgard, about each other. Argent gets the worst of it, because his name is Evgard, but he's Mereish.
  • Fantastic Slurs: Argent, because of his Mereish looks, is called "pisciculi albus", "vermiculus" and "color seminis". He says "there are more words for freak and weird and disgusting than I can translate".
  • Female Gaze: Micheal directs this at Francis constantly.
  • A Friend in Need: Subverted. Michael not only causes Francis to get beaten by the school bullies, but also fails to help him.
  • Friendless Background: Michael.
    Francis: Do you always hit people? Is that how you make friends?
    Michael: I don't know. I don't have any.
  • Friendship Moment: Michael giving Evgard's stuff to Francis, and then holding hands with him.
  • Genre-Busting: The real world plotline is a Coming of Age Story, while Evgard is in a Low Fantasy setting.
  • Good Flaws, Bad Flaws: The main characters are jerks in their own sort of way, but the villains? They range from an homophobic bully to a pedophile rapist.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Argent feels terribly guilty because he truly sees Columen as a friend, and ends up leading a life with luxuries he and his people never had.
  • Have I Mentioned I Am Heterosexual Today?: Michael… while looking into Francis's eyes and holding hands with him.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: Argent, mostly, but it permeates the rest of the book.
  • Holding Hands: Michael and Francis at the end.
  • In Medias Res: The book begins with Michael finding the note in his locker, only to explain later how he and Francis became friends.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Michael is a platonic (or not) version of this trope for Francis, constantly feeling insecure about their friendship. This is because Michael has trust issues after being bullied at his previous school, and finds it difficult to accept that Francis — who is "cool", "posh" and "handsome" — would genuinely want to be friends with him.
  • In the End, You Are on Your Own: A Mereish saying, apparently. Argent's father used to tell him this.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: Michael and Argent are masters of this, followed almost immediately by It's All My Fault.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Both "the comp" that Michael used to go to and St Anselm's have some nasty bullies. There is an offhand reference to a bullying victim at the comp who committed suicide in a stall at the school bathroom.
  • La Résistance: Argent was part of the Mereish resistance against the Evgard rule.
  • Locker Mail: The story begins with Michael finding the note in his locker.
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: The Duke loses Argent to Columen in a game of dice. Subverted. After Argent confronts him, Columen reveals the die was weighted — he had no intention of really gambling with Argent's life.
  • Made a Slave: Argent. He is caught by the Evgard along with other members of the Mereish resistance, and is the only one who survives long enough to be a slave.
  • Misfit Mobilization Moment: When Michael and Francis finally get around to get their revenge against Shipley.
  • Mood Whiplash: One of Francis and Michael's most raw, painful interactionsnote  is intercut with a flashback to one of the happiest scenes in the whole book, when the two of them visited a castle together.
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Played for Drama. What cements Michael's suspicion that Francis had betrayed their secret is Francis, noticing that he is acting strange, asking "is it because you found out about...?". Michael thinks that Francis is talking about Evgard, and nods. Francis thinks that Michael found out that he is gay.
  • Only Friend: Francis is Michael's. Not the other way round, though; there are mentions of Francis's other friends. They're both a mix of the two types. Michael don't easily make friends (and when he does form a friendship, he manages to break it), but that's only because he was bullied at his previous school. And while Francis is a Nice Guy, he's also a bit of a misfit — possibly because of his friendship with Michael and his homosexuality — and he too sees Evgard as an escape from everything else.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Michael's mom, when he tries to tell her about being bullied at the Comp.
  • Peer Pressure Makes You Evil: Although it's not that the bullies are trying to make anyone evil, but that fear of them and paranoia induced by them twists everything around.
  • Rape as Drama: What the Duke does to Argent offscreen.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified: Followed straight, then subverted magnificently. We see how Evgard is pretty awful against the Mereish through the Duke's treatment of the Mereish captives, but later it's revealed that the Mereish aren't that much better.
  • Role-Playing Game 'Verse: Evgard.
  • Smug Snake: The Duke, Mathon.
  • Scholarship Student: Coming from what's implied to be a fairly low-income household is one of many reasons why Michael has an inferiority complex. Michael's mum had to borrow money from his grandmother so that Michael can attend St. Anselm's. Francis (and his siblings) is also a literal Scholarship Student.
  • Straight Gay: Francis, which is why Michael didn't realise that he's gay. It's implied that he was deliberately acting straight s- when he thinks Michael outed him, he demands to know how he managed to find out.
  • There Are No Therapists: Some counselling could certainly have been helpful for Michael, given that he was bullied to a point where he stopped attending school and spent his time staring at the bedroom wall in Troubled Fetal Position for hours. However, it is possible that his mother had tried to bring him to therapists and he had refused to open up to them.
  • Title Drop: The fictional game "Trecho" is also called the Traitor Game.
  • Trauma Conga Line
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: The Duke promises he'll free the traitors if one of them crosses the Judas Floor without falling. He was lying, of course. Argent succeeds and it doesn't fare well for him.