The Betrayals

by Bridget Collins

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LoveReading Expert Review of The Betrayals

Secrets, struggles and an arcane contest - this 1930s-set mystery is a uniquely piquant literary feast.

From the author of the divinely dark The Binding and several acclaimed novels for young adults, Bridget Collins’s The Betrayals murmurs with menace and the mystery of the grand jeu, an arcane intellectual game that melds music, maths, poetry and philosophy. The novel’s world - at once familiar and strange - is conjured with crystalline clarity and populated by a cast of distinctly charismatic characters. Set in an unnamed disintegrating European country in the 1930s, the story begins when thirty-two-year-old Leo is removed from his post as Minister for Culture and exiled to his former academy, the exclusive Montverre. Here the nation’s cleverest are schooled in the art of the grand jeu, and here Leo is forced to face tragedy from his past as he forms an unsettling connection with the academy’s new female Magister Ludi. Part homage to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, this boasts a compellingly jolting plot that will keep readers on their toes, and a delicious dénouement - it’s a delight for lovers of literary conundrums.

Find out more about Bridget Collins in our 'Putting Authors in the Picture' blog!

Joanne Owen

The Betrayals Synopsis

If everything in your life was based on a lie

Would you risk it all to tell the truth?

At Montverre, an exclusive academy tucked away in the mountains, the best and brightest are trained for excellence in the grand jeu: an arcane and mysterious contest. Leo Martin was once a student there, but lost his passion for the grand jeu following a violent tragedy. Now he returns in disgrace, exiled to his old place of learning with his political career in tatters.

Montverre has changed since he studied there, even allowing a woman, Claire Dryden, to serve in the grand jeu's highest office of Magister Ludi. When Leo first sees Claire he senses an odd connection with her, though he's sure they have never met before.

Both Leo and Claire have built their lives on lies. And as the legendary Midsummer Game, the climax of the year, draws closer, secrets are whispering in the walls...

About This Edition

ISBN: 9780008272203
Publication date: 12th November 2020
Author: Bridget Collins
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Format: Audiobook
Primary Genre Historical fiction
Other Genres:
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The Betrayals Reader Reviews

In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion some of our Reader Review Panel were also lucky enough to read and review this title.

Richly imagined setting, an elusive game and the intriguing connection between two flawed and brilliantly drawn characters.

Richly imagined setting, an elusive game and the intriguing connection between two flawed and brilliantly drawn characters.

The specific nature of the grand jeu is shrouded in mystery but is a combination of maths and music and whilst I didn’t find the novel entirely compelling given the constant reference to it and my lack of clarity about it I certainly appreciated the ebb and flow in Léo’s relationship with Claire, complete with misunderstandings and suspected betrayals. Both of these flawed characters fascinated me and Bridget Collins’s sensitive and gradual exposure of their vulnerabilities kept me intrigued. As the story slowly reveals that both of these complex characters have built their lives around long-standing lies a momentous and involving denouement sees everything change for both of them.. Gloriously readable and watch out for the supporting character of the wise Rat who has her one equally powerful story to tell with its very own sting in the tail!

Rachel Hall

A wonderful, intricately woven tale that takes you on a journey of emotions. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It made me think and feel. Wonderful.

The first thing that struck me about this novel was the absolutely beautiful cover. It really makes you want to delve inside and start the journey. This book is so wonderfully written it draws you in from the beginning.
Set in a different country where the politics are a little 1984 and women aren’t allowed the freedoms of men, the story is set in a rural area in a beautiful old building. It is run by the Magisters who teach only men about the most important national game, the grand jeu.
The grand jeu is a belief system, a religion and a way of life almost. The scholars study it, the Magisters teach it, but everyone does their best to create the greatest game they can.
The story is written in both the present and the past and the intricacies of the story are absorbing.
We are wrapped up in the relationships between Leo and Carfax and Leo and Magister Ludi. The whole thing is full of twists and turns and betrayals of various different sorts by different characters.
I absolutely adored this book. Collins is a magnificent storyteller who completely surrounds your senses with her words so that you feel you are actually in the story, part of the adventure.
Loved it, highly recommended.

Amanda O’Dwyer

Plot, setting, characters - all brilliant. Not to be missed.

There are so many brilliant aspects to this novel. The setting is mysterious – an exclusive institution where scholars study a strange, arcane game while in the outside world of the 1930s a sinister repressive party seems to be becoming more powerful. The main characters are cleverly drawn. Leo was once a student and has returned to his old academy after being sacked as a government minister. Claire is the first woman to hold one of the highest offices there. A connection between them is felt and gradually through the story and using flashbacks from Leo’s diary when he was a student secrets are exposed. 

I was completely captivated by the immersive storytelling, by the well-crafted plot with all its twists and by the brilliantly imagined world the author has invented. Bridget Collins has a masterly way of weaving the different threads and creating complex characters. It is both a page turner and a love story. The people and their relationships are the main focus but it is also the strange and enigmatic background that makes it such a compelling and rewarding read.

Ann Peet

Some books involve you - in this case I felt as if I was watching a performance. The writing is exquisite! "The Binding" was good. "The Betrayals" is phenomenal.

I received my copy of The Betrayals and on opening the package, I opened the book for a quick look at the opening pages. Big mistake if you have a busy schedule! - Two chapters in, I think I just uttered something like "Wow" and settled down to read more. I find myself hours later completely in awe of Bridget Collins. I loved The Binding, and although this is recognisable as written by the same author, it is totally different. Again, it is impossible to pin down a time or place in history. Strangely, I couldn't find myself empathising with a character. BUT, there is the same atmospheric scene setting and beautifully, poetic turn of phrase. 
Some books involve you and play with your emotions, but in this case I felt as if I was watching/experiencing a performance. The setting is a creepy mountain top academy where the curriculum is stranger than Hogwarts and the Midsummer Game a fitting climax. The writing is exquisite! I can't pretend to understand a lot of the nuances and will, no doubt be re-reading to appreciate it a little more. This book is very special. The Binding was good, The Betrayals is phenomenal. I wouldn't dream of including any 'spoilers' - you'll have to read it!

Kathy Martin

An absorbing read about lies, love, rivalries and betrayals set in a university in a fictional European country in the 30s.

The Betrayals is set in a world similar to our own during the thirties. In an unnamed fictional European country, a far right authoritarian party are in power, the homeless have vanished from the streets, women's recently hard-won rights are being eroded and Christians are being persecuted.

Most of the story takes place in the ivory tower of Montverre, an exclusive all-male academic institution where students study the grand jeu. This is the national game, but precisely how it works is never explained - beyond that it is an intriguing mix of music, mathematics and art that somehow combine to become something reminiscent of an act of worship.

Léo Martin studied there and graduated into a career in politics. Now disgraced following an ill-advised attempt to temper some of The Party's reforms he has been exiled back to Montverre to resume a life of study. There he is mentored by the Magister Ludi - the first woman ever to be allowed to perform & teach the grand jeu at Montverre.

Their relationship is interesting and complicated, full of lies, assumptions and misunderstandings. The Magister has in her possession an old diary of Léo's and as she reads it so we slowly learn of the events that happened when he was a student and how they tie in with what is happening now.

It's more sophisticated & complex than The Binding (which I also loved). I particularly liked the way Bridget Collins gives you just enough background information to get into and understand the world she has created but doesn't bog you down with unnecessary details. As a reader I enjoy a book that trusts me to use my imagination to set the scene and fill in the blanks.

The Betrayals is an extremely satisfying and absorbing read with fabulous characters, a really interesting setting and a very human story at its heart. I'm already looking forward to whatever Bridget Collins writes next.

Sarah Noakes

I enjoyed this reading this book. Good characters and good story lines.

This book is set in an exclusive academy called Montverre. The Academy trains men, exclusively, to participate in the grand jeu, an archaic game which includes music, history, maths and movement.
The book begins with a Rat, or rather a girl who has developed rat-like behaviours to survive in the shadows at Montverre. It becomes clear towards the end of the book who has caused her to have to live like this.
Leo Martin is a politician who was trained at Montverre and has now been sent back, having disagreed with the policies and ideas that the government is pursuing. In a controversial break with tradition, Claire Dryden has been appointed as Magister Ludi, one of the teachers at Montverre. She has had no warning of Leo’s arrival and is overwhelmed when she sees him descend from a taxi. The book concerns their joint history and shows the development of their relationship.
Claire, Leo and the Rat have all been betrayed in different ways, each of them linked to Leo’s training at Monteverre. The book explores the circumstances and events that have brought them to this place.
I enjoyed reading this book and felt that the beginning and end were joined in a very neat way. I felt that I would have liked to know more about the grand jeu, but I did not feel that I missed any nuance in the storylines.


A rich, detailed and immersive read with a complex and mysterious game at its heart.

A rich, detailed and immersive read with a complex and mysterious game at its heart.

This is such a rich and rewarding read, inspired by Herman Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, which might make interesting further reading. Claire and Leo are wonderfully interesting and flawed protagonists and the academy provides a unique and intriguing backdrop. Anyone spellbound by childhood boarding school stories will probably love Monteverdi! All in all it’s a compelling, magical and forensically crafted book.

Clare Wilkins


She's done it again. Stunning.

I love Bridget Collins' writing. She lures you into a story so gently and before you know it you're halfway through and utterly engrossed. 

I enjoyed the complexity of the relationships in The Betrayals and although I sat with bated breath, thinking I knew what was happening and dreading it, but each time I was proven wrong. Sometimes there was a relief, sometimes the true outcome was more heartbreaking. 

The Betrayals is a beautiful and complex story, set in an alpine boarding school. It isn't similar really, but as I was reading I was reminded of Dead Poets Society, a group of boarding school boys gathered together to discuss art and beauty. The Betrayals is enigmatic and yet has a familiar atmosphere. It's full of peaks and troughs, moments of despair and moments where my heart would sing. This book knits together the different narratives of family, friendship, growing up and politics within a web of secrets, agendas and a fight for power.

The Betrayals is, in and of itself, a masterful grand jeu. I think those who adored The Binding will love this too!

Charlotte Walker

Lose yourself in this beautiful tale of a game that is more than a game...

Leo and Carfax are rivals and friends, learning and playing the "grand jeu" at Montverre school. Years later, Leo is back but under much different circumstances and playing a whole different type of game - one which has ramifications in his past and that of his contemporaries. The "grand jeu" really is a game of life and death.

You only need to look at the beautiful cover of this novel to fall in love with it. I don't know how it's been done but my ARC has a soft feel to it and it just makes me want to hold it and to read it before I've even opened it!

The "grand jeu" is based on The Glass Bead Game but has a story, characters and history all of it's own and it's not an exaggertation to say I loved them all.

Come into this wonderful story to read of Leo, Aime, Carfax, Emile, Simon, The Rat and so many more; I guarantee you won't be able to put it down.

Kerry Bridges

The Betrayals is an enchanted story that isn't completely fantastical. It's beautifully written and focuses on the difficult formative years in an unusual and enigmatic learning establishment.

Bridget Collins writes enchanted stories that aren't completely fantastical.

The Betrayals is set almost entirely at Montverre, a mysterious school where the students prepare for the grand jeu. Léo is forced to return there, ten years after leaving, and he meets Claire who holds the highest position of Magister Ludi and is the only woman allowed to be there. He feels there is something between them, but what?

We are thrust between Léo and Claire in the current time, Léo's diary from his previous stint at Montverre and brief intersections from The Rat. This device works well to tell the story of what happened in the past and how it is affecting the present.

I struggled a little with the grand jeu sections, probably I needed to understand earlier what it actually was. But I enjoyed the overall story of friendship, rivalry, love, and competitiveness. There were events in the story that I just never saw coming and the author did an amazing job at letting it unfold organically without giving anything away.

The Betrayals is a beautifully written book, focusing on difficult formative years in an unusual and enigmatic learning establishment. Collins seems to excel at writing historical fantasy with a toe in reality. I didn't always 'get' this book and certain parts didn't completely work for me, but I'm glad I read it and that last 100 pages or so had me turning them as fast as I could to find out what would happen to Léo and Claire.

Nicola Smith

An intriguing historical fantasy centred around scholars learning the art of an ancient game and a secret at its core that will unravel everything. This absorbing, intricately woven plot will keep readers hooked to the very end.

This book’s richly embellished cover promises something special within and it doesn’t disappoint. There are several strands running throughout the book, which were at times rather slow moving, but eventually collide together at the end. The main characters, Clare and Leo are fascinatingly complex and are inexorably drawn to each other and adds a romantic element. The regular switches between the past school life and the current exile of Leo in the same school adds interesting story background. The lie which is at the core of the book is explosive and both Clare and Leo must deal with its consequences. It takes a while to get into this book, but it’s so worth persevering, as the book picks up speed towards the second half and readers will love the many twists and turns as the different mysteries unfold.

Adrienne Kinsella

Leo Martin is exiled to Montverre where he meets Claire Dryden. There is both an instant connection and antipathy between them. However, as the year progresses secrets from their past start to catch up with them.

Leo Martin is a disgraced politician who has been exiled to Montverre by the Party. It is a remote university where an archaic game called the grand jeu is played. Leo was once a student at Montverre, but now it is a place that holds very painful memories for him.

When Leo arrives, he is introduced to Claire Dryden. She is a brilliant grand jeu player and the first female Magister Ludi. There is an instant antipathy between them but they also share a connection that leads back to Leo’s time as a student at the university. As the year progresses, secrets from their past start to catch up with them and their safety becomes threatened by the Party.

The Betrayals is inspired by The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse. Set in a dystopian 1930s era, it draws the reader into an ancient academic world set against a totalitarian background. The narrative is imbued with a sense of fear and dissimulation. However, this is counter-balanced by a very clever Shakespearian plot twist.

The Betrayals is an extremely engrossing page-turner that explores otherness, the fluidity of sexuality and a detailed alternate reality.

Andrea Rayner

This is one of the most unique, fascinating and intriguing books I have read. Beautifully written with beguiling characters this is a captivating read.

The Betrayals has to be one of the most fascinating, original and intriguing books that I have read. Having read up about the wrtiting of this book I have learned that it is set in an alternative 1930’s and is inspired by the book The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse, which I have now bought as it really piqued my interest. The chapters are from the point of view of Léo, Magister Ludi Claire and an unmaned and mysterious character simply referred to as the Rat. As well as the events of in the present, the upcoming pressure of the grand jeu, there are enteries from Léo’s diary from his time at the school twenty years earlier, and his rivalry with fellow pupil Aimé Carfax de Courtney.

For me it was the characters and their relationships that made this book such a fascinating read. Léo has been banished from his job as Minister for Culture and exiled to Montverre under the guise of studying the grand jeu. Being back at the school brings back memories, good and bad. He is surprised that the Magister Ludi is now held by a woman, especially as it has always been a male-only school. From the first moment they meet Claire and Léo are combative in their realtionship, neither paticulary liking the other even though there is chemistry between them. I was gripped by the these two characters and their developing relationship, their interplay and arguments.

Juliet Butler

Bridget Collins Press Reviews

Praise for THE BINDING:

'More of an experience than a book, written with such grace and wisdom. Utterly brilliant' - Joanna Cannon

'Truly spellbinding ... readers will sink gratefully into the pleasures of its pages ... Like a wonderful meal made from a few simple ingredients: the feeling in your chest when you hold someone in your arms for the first time; the sight of a host of bluebells. In recent years, the state of the world has threatened to make us forget the simple pleasures of kisses and bluebells and thick novels that tell stories of heartbreak. Here is a book to help us remember' Guardian

'Pure magic. The kind of immersive storytelling that makes you forget your own name. I wish I had written it' - Erin Kelly

'With a twisting narrative that explores humans' darkest moments and morals, Collins has created a fascinating fantasy world that evokes the atmosphere of Sarah Waters' books with a nod to Philip Pullman' - Stylist

'Spellbinding' - Tracy Chevalier

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9780008272197
Publication date: 28/10/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9780008272166
Publication date: 12/11/2020
Format: Hardback

ISBN: 9780008272203
Publication date: 12/11/2020
Format: Audiobook

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About Bridget Collins

Bridget Collins was born in 1981 in Kent, England. She always wanted to be an actor, and trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art after studying English at King's College, Cambridge, but after she graduated from drama school she found herself starting to write a novel as a way to distract herself when she wasn't working - and discovered that she loved it... Her first published novel, The Traitor Game, won the Branford Boase Award and was longlisted for the Carnegie Medal. Since then she has published six more novels for teenagers. The Binding, her first adult novel, ...

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