The world-building shines as the star of B.L. Blanchard’s debut novel, The Peacekeeper, a murder mystery set in an alt-history version of the Great Lakes region of North America. By far the most compelling aspect of the book, the world-building centers around the premise that North America was never colonized and that Native American society has solidified into the Ojibwe nation around the Great Lakes. It asks the question, what does that look like? How would cities like Chicago have evolved? How would the police and judicial system operate? What about economics? Blanchard answers these questions and more throughout the course of unwinding the mystery, which in many ways fades to the back as this intriguing world-building concept takes the front seat. I received an ARC of this book from 47North. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 01/06/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
Against the backdrop of a never-colonized North America, a broken Ojibwe detective embarks on an emotional and twisting journey toward solving two murders, rediscovering family, and finding himself.
North America was never colonized. The United States and Canada don’t exist. The Great Lakes are surrounded by an independent Ojibwe nation. And in the village of Baawitigong, a Peacekeeper confronts his devastating past.
Twenty years ago to the day, Chibenashi’s mother was murdered and his father confessed. Ever since, caring for his still-traumatized younger sister has been Chibenashi’s privilege and penance. Now, on the same night of the Manoomin harvest, another woman is slain. His mother’s best friend. This leads to a seemingly impossible connection that takes Chibenashi far from the only world he’s ever known.
The major city of Shikaakwa is home to the victim’s cruelly estranged family—and to two people Chibenashi never wanted to see again: his imprisoned father and the lover who broke his heart. As the questions mount, the answers will change his and his sister’s lives forever. Because Chibenashi is about to discover that everything about their lives has been a lie.
The earth is sacred and “the Good Life” – sharing what you have with others, a close equivalent to the concept of karma, the author explains in the glossary – are two of the guiding principles that form the foundation of world-building in The Peacekeeper. Buildings are living, trees and plants literally grow out of the skyscrapers, bringing the earth into their towering structures to meet the people that live and work there. Nature is omnipresent. Justice focuses on making victims whole, guided by “the Good Life” rather than punitive approaches to restitution. In smaller towns, like Baawitigong, money is rarely used, everyone in the village ensures that the needs of the townspeople are met through shared resources and redistribution of possessions. These are just a few of examples of how the author paints a very different picture of what the world might look like had Native Americans held on to the land and the nation grew under their precepts instead of the colonists.
However, human nature cannot be escaped, and to me this was probably the most powerful message of the book. Poverty and inequality still exist as shown by the state of Sakima’s housing and the homelessness in the streets of Shikaakwa. Cheating, murder, and drugs are still present, and their evils have dire consequences. The justice system, although fundamentally different, still fails people. This book tells us that no matter how benevolent the society, how good its intentions, human nature is constant.
The language and the prose structure complimented the world-building nicely by using Native American terms and names as well as providing a Native American voice. Note to readers: there is a glossary in the back of the book that is extremely helpful!
Unfortunately, the characters and mystery fell flat for me, which is why I rated the book merely average. Chibenashi is not a sympathetic character. He is frustrating at best and annoying at worst. The trouble is that we are only given his viewpoint. There are limited forays into other viewpoints, but not enough to let us know that Chibenashi is in fact an unreliable narrator. Had we known that earlier in the book through others’ viewpoints, I think his character would have been more sympathetic, and that tactic would also have added dimension to the murder mystery. We do find out why he is an unreliable narrator at the end of the book as part of the mystery reveal, but knowing that in hindsight doesn’t make his character easier to read for the first 80% of the book.
The book intends there to be an awakening for Chibenashi. He is meant to experience and drive toward re-creation in the endless cycle of life. And although his character arc ends with him starting completely fresh and anew – literally the last two pages of the book – the revelations and transformation that led to those final pages felt rushed, especially considering the amount of time the reader spends with the unlikeable character.
There were problems with continuity in action versus reaction. The consequences and emotional implications of Chibenashi stealing the file, for example, were completely disproportionate when compared to the consequences and impacts of “sins” committed by other characters, e.g. Sakima lying about his whereabouts or Peezhickee withholding key information or, most notably, botching the initial investigation. The lack of continuity pulled me out of the story as I was unable to reconcile this hitch in the world-building and characterization.
The mystery is straight-forward, but again, this book’s world-building is the draw, not the mystery itself. The Scooby Doo ending, where everyone arrives at the same time for the big reveal, coupled with the Bond-villain-esque pages of monologue from the antagonist revealing the entire how and why was over-the-top. This type of reveal didn’t match the methodical pacing of the rest of the story and I think the mystery would have been better served had it been resolved more organically.
Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It came at a time when I was desperately seeking something different, and it most definitely delivered on that front. I’d recommend it to someone who enjoys inventive, alt-history world-building and a light mystery. I doubt I will read on in the series, though. This first book did not grip me enough such that I feel compelled to return for the next installment.