The time has come. This is my last review post on Libri Draconis. It has been a brilliant few years, but as I’m starting my new role with UK Tor tomorrow, it is time to move on from reviewing. There will still be a few guest posts to come over the next few weeks, and the site will be online for the time being. I am so grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read mine – and my co-bloggers – posts over the last years, and I am very thankful to every publicist who has sent me books for review throughout my time reviewing. (And huge apologies for the books I have not managed to cover as this has come on rather suddenly, with a trip to Worldcon in between…) As always, these opinions are entirely my own.
A Magic Steeped in Poison by Judy I. Lin is a debut YA fantasy about tea magic. The first in a duology, I need book two STAT. It’s already out in the US – but the UK needs to wait until January 2023 for the second one, and you bet I’m debating with myself whether I can wait three months to have a matching set of paperbacks or whether I need to brave the wilds of Book Depository and get myself the hardcover now. As someone who has tea running through their veins (seriously, I’m a diabetic, it’s one of the few things I’m allowed to drink for pleasure), reading a book so steeped in love for the drink was wonderful. The way Judy I. Lin talks about tea, and food more generally, as well as the immersive world building, makes her love for Chinese culture and mythology shine through. The language is lyrical and permeated by thoughtful descriptions, political intrigue and strong characters. In short, a great story and an author to watch. I adored A Magic Steeped in Poison and highly recommend you pick this one up.
Firetide Coast by Claire McKenna is the conclusion to the Deepwater trilogy. I loved diving back into Arden’s world – these books are criminally underrated if you look at the amount of Goodreads ratings they have. If you are like me and like water, Gothic atmosphere and the occasional dash of romantic elements, then do check out this series. It’s a very solid read throughout, and I found Firetide Coast worked well to wrap up the story threads from the first two books and tie up the trilogy. These books are fast, compelling reads, and while they won’t be among my forever favourites, I really enjoy them and will reread them as comfort reads, especially now I have the whole series together. They’re just that tad creepy, with brooding love interests, a strong heroine and dashing conspiracy. And so much water – much of them takes place on boats, and you can just smell the seaside air come alive. Wonderful.
The Daughter of Doctor Moreau by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is inspired by H.G. Wells’ The Island of Doctor Moreau, but as usual with Silvia Moreno-Garcia, given a Mexican twist. I love how every single one of her books I have picked up are in an entirely different genre, with a completely different voice but each is a standout, quality novel. I don’t think there are any other authors writing right now that are as versatile as she is – and that makes her criminally underrated. The woman deserves a Hugo already. And The Daughter of Doctor Moreau is her best book to date, in my opinion. It takes the bare bones of Wells’ story, and turns them into a compelling novel about nuanced characters, written in brilliant prose. I thought Mexican Gothic was great, but this just really steps it up to another level. Carlota is one of my favourite determined heroines I’ve read all year in this gothic story of hybrids, scientific experiments and scheming – a book I highly recommend to all of you. I was supposed to review this for Grimdark Magazine before the Summer of Chaos (TM) happened, and I’m really sad that I ended up with just a short mini review here – but do keep your eyes peeled for my colleague’s full take on it over at Grimdark Magazine soon (because I couldn’t resist making sure we have someone covering this brilliance in my stead!).
And another set of excellent books that deserve far more attention than I’m able to give them right now. As I prepare to wind down my reviewing, I’m trying to get through as much as I can this weekend – with a few guest posts still to come in the next few weeks for blog tours I had committed to but won’t be able to follow through myself. A huge thanks again to all the publicists who have sent me these books – all opinions are my own.
Cursed by Marissa Meyer concludes the story begun in Gilded last year – her young adult Rumpelstiltskin retelling. This follows on with Serilda, Gild and the Erlking’s story and weaves an epic fairy tale of love, betrayal and cunning. I loved how the ending ended up using the tropes from the original story so exactly but only in letter and not in spirit – something I found worked really well, and made me feel a lot better about the book as a whole than I might have before then. I found the pacing a bit off for my taste, as parts seemed to drag slightly, and I caught my attention waning a few times. This is something that I don’t think I’ve experienced in any of Marissa Meyer’s previous books – they are usually very quick, compelling reads for me, but this is one I struggled a bit with. I think part of it is that the story may have worked better as a single volume rather than a duology. It felt artificially elongated, and a more succinct tale would have been more organic, as would have a stronger character focus rather than one on a variety on side bits. Having the story streamlined would help the pacing and make it a more compelling read – it is still a solid story, but I did find this duology didn’t quite have the magic other Marissa Meyer books have carried for me in the past.
One Dark Window by Rachel Gillig is the first book in the Shepherd King series. Featuring a magic system inspired by tarot cards and a gothic setting, the cover is a perfect illustration of the atmosphere. And it is a stunning cover – I could keep staring at it for hours. It is romantic, dramatic and a book I think will resonate especially well with the TikTok crowd – it is suited so well to aesthetic videos and dramatic music overlays! In many ways, One Dark Window feels like an adult novel perfect for a YA audience aging out of YA. It has a similarly fast pace, use of tropes and atmospheric romance that resonates with readers of the popular older YA series, but is more mature and clearly written with an adult audience in mind (it is not NA, it is adult) – so a great next step if you feel ready to take that leap. However, for me, that meant I wasn’t the right reader for it. I appreciated the atmospheric nature of the book, but I wished for more character focus and I imagined something very different when I kept hearing tarot-based magic system. I found the characters a bit bland and the romance ultimately didn’t click with me. So, a book I see working far better for lots of people who aren’t me!
The Extraordinary Voyage of Katy Willacott by Sharon Gosling is a great middle grade adventure. It features the titular character of Katy Willacott, a determined girl desperate to escape the confines of social convention and hungry for knowledge. Set around the time of the construction of the new building for the British Museum, Katy sneaks on board a research expedition to Brazil, dressed as a cabin boy – and, as is par for the course with MG adventures, finds herself embroiled in conspiracy, shenanigans and great discovery. This is a fast-paced, compelling story that will resonate with young readers of all persuasions – it’s the second novel by Sharon Gosling I’ve read, and I’ve enjoyed this one just as much. Katy is prickly, smart and ambitious, and I love how today’s heroines get to be all these things in books. No more nice and pleasant girls, please! (And, to be entirely honest, I’d love a book about Katy as an adult, I think she’ll grow up into someone fascinating!)
If you follow me on social media, you may have seen that I’m going to be starting a new job soon. As in, next week soon. That means things will be changing around here. We don’t quite know what shape or form that will take as I will step back from reviewing but it means that I have a heck of a lot of reviews that I want to get your eyes on this weekend! So stay tuned for a review bonanza this weekend. Many thanks to the respective publicists for sending me review copies of these books – all opinions are entirely my own. And I loved all three of these!
A Restless Truth by Freya Marske follows on on last year’s A Marvellous Light (which I reviewed over on Grimdark Magazine HERE). While the first book followed Edwin and Robin, two men in Edwardian London, this is set on a grand ocean liner crossing the Atlantic, reminiscent of the grandeur of the Titanic. It features new main characters – Maud Blyth and the dashing Violet Debenham – and of course, a good dose of murder. Just as devastatingly sexy and compelling as A Marvellous Light, A Restless Truth may have captured even more of my heart. Because who can resist women falling in love on a ship? Confined spaces, intense inter-personal relationships and steamy romance on a steamboat! Freya’s writing is truly marvellous and the way she manages to combine a mystery with erotic scenes that will make you blush in public and tenderly developed, nuanced characters is something that makes these books stand out in the market. These books are absolute gems and I can’t recommend them enough.
The Atlas Paradox by Olivie Blake is the sequel to The Atlas Six, duh – which I adored – see my review HERE. This second book sets in slightly after the conclusion of the first book, after everyone had a chance to digest the events of the ending. I think my favourite bit – and after the threesome of book one, I don’t think this is a major spoiler – is that Libby is officially confirmed as bi on the page. And for me personally, that was a major thing. We don’t get enough of this in books! Also, hi, Libby’s my favourite. As this is essentially the GET LIBBY BACK book (sorry if you haven’t read book one!) for me, this one was all about her. She permeates the story, even when she’s not in it. I did feel that The Atlas Paradox wasn’t quite as magical for me as The Atlas Six had been, but that is often the case with sequels – the world is established, the stakes are set and you know the characters, they have become familiar. I still really, really enjoyed reading this and diving back into this world and already can’t wait for the next one! I need MORE! And there’s a certain new character who I’m very intrigued by and who I think will have a super interesting arc coming up, so AAAH GIMME NOW. A very very solid four stars.
A Dowry of Blood by S.T. Gibson was originally self-published before it was picked up by Orbit to be re-released in October. This is a queer, poly, retelling of the brides of Dracula, set over the course of centuries. Like many, I initially thought that the original cover was far cooler, but that faded fast when I received the physical ARC – the smear of blood over her eyes is foiled, so it actually looks like blood on the cover and has a different texture to the rest and it’s such a brilliant effect. It ended up a stunning edition. I also love the elaborate initials used at the beginning of each chapter – and as the narration is closer to stream of consciousness or conversational narration than traditional chapters, there’s a lot of them. So, even if you have the original edition, I recommend you pick up this Orbit edition. It’s been a while since I read the first edition, so I’m not sure how much is down to Orbit’s editing and how much is down to time and format, but I felt like I enjoyed this a lot more a second time. The characters stood out more and the story as a whole drew me in more. This is written in second person – which seems like an important thing to mention, as I know many of you may have opinions on this – it’s not something which I tend to be very fond of, but I felt like it worked really well here. I ended up loving A Dowry of Blood my second read and highly recommend it.
Huge thanks to the lovely Nazia at Orbit for feeding my mythology obsession with the outstanding Ithaca by Claire North. I loved this one, and if you’re into retellings and mythology-inspired stories, you should check this one out too! As always, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 08/09/2022
STAR RATING: 4.5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Seventeen years ago, king Odysseus sailed to war with Troy, taking with him every man of fighting age from the island of Ithaca. None of them have returned, and the women have been left behind to run the kingdom.
Penelope was barely into womanhood when she wed Odysseus. Whilst he lived, her position was secure. But now, years on, speculation is mounting that husband is dead, and suitors are starting to knock at her door…
But no one man is strong enough to claim Odysseus’ empty throne – not yet. Between Penelope’s many suitors, a cold war of dubious alliances and hidden knives reigns, as everyone waits for the balance of power to tip one way or another. If Penelope chooses one from amongst them, it will plunge Ithaca into bloody civil war. Only through cunning and her spy network of maids can she maintain the delicate balance of power needed for the kingdom to survive.
On Ithaca, everyone watches everyone else, and there is no corner of the palace where intrigue does not reign… (from Orbit)
OPINIONS: I have historically not always gotten along with Claire North’s writing. But as I’ve been adoring the mythological retellings trend and always thought Penelope deserved better than the few lines dedicated to her in The Odyssey, I decided to give Ithaca a shot anyway. And oh, am I glad that I did! This feels very different to Claire North’s previous books in terms of writing style, much more fluid and character-driven, concerned with telling a compelling story. Where I think I disconnected with her work before due to its bleak outlook and matter-of-fact tone, this worked much better for me, probably because it emulated a style closer to books like Ariadne or The Women of Troy.
But this isn’t the story of how Penelope weaves her shroud. This is the story of how she governs in Odysseus absence, and I’m here for it. I loved Ithaca – I tend to like politics in my fiction anyway, and when its women taking over traditionally male roles in stories usually told from their perspective, even more so. One of the things I always forget is how in mythology, as in history, royals are related to each other. So, Penelope doesn’t act in isolation upon the conclusion of the Trojan war. The book also heavily features Elektra – which I found interesting, especially as Jennifer Saint’s Elektra came out only a few months ago. I love how this genre is in constant conversation with each other, how there is almost a shared universe of stories being created, a modern corpus of stories in which authors craft versions of mythology, just as oral storytellers would have thousands of years ago.
So, Ithaca is another win for the mythology brigade. Strong characters, a solid story crafted fresh – this isn’t one that’s been done a million times, but one that takes a period that isn’t discussed often, especially in regard to Ithaca, and imagines a possible narrative for it. This is one that will work both for existing fans of Claire North and those drawn in by the blurb – it has a different feel to her previous work, and I believe this will gain her a wider readership. I highly recommend you check out Ithaca! Add it to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Drawn in by the dragons, compelled by the wonderful characters and the evocative writing. A true gem of a crossover fantasy novel. Huge thanks to Sarah at Titan Books for sending me a review copy. As always, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 05/07/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: An ancient city plagued by dragons.
Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come from miles to see him fight in their arena, which will one day be hers. But disaster strikes during one celebratory show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s life changes in an instant.
A flamenco dancer determined to save her ancestral home
Facing punishment from the Dragon Guild, Zarela must keep the arena—her ancestral home and inheritance—safe from their greedy hands. She has no choice but to train to become a Dragonador. When the infuriatingly handsome dragon hunter, Arturo Díaz de Montserrat, withholds his help, she refuses to take no for an answer. Without him, her world will burn.
But even if he agrees, there’s someone out to ruin the Zalvidar family, and Zarela will have to do whatever it takes in order to prevent the Dragon Guild from taking away her birthright. (from Titan)
OPINIONS: Together We Burn is the first Isabel Ibañez novel I’ve read, but certainly not the last. As the name of this blog may have hinted at, I love dragons, and this writes them well. Set in a world where a culture similar to that of Spanish bullfighting exists, but with dragons, Zarela has been trained her whole life to take over for her mother as a dancer, while her father is a famous dragonador. But fate has other plans, and she has to step up if she wants to save her family’s legacy. Ibañez waves a compelling tale of family loyalty, stubbornness and dragons, with a good dash of unlikely attraction. In short, a great story.
And oh, the enemies to lovers between Zarela and Arturo… It is absolutely delicious. Slow-burn, and that immediate, tangible chemistry between them. It’s just delicious. This is how I like my romance in YA. a great enemies to lovers trope will get me enchanted and drawn into the story – add in betrayal and dragons? Yes please! And oh, the worldbuilding. It’s inspired by elements from our world, but crafted into something truly unique as well, creating a story that you just can’t put down. I loved it, and I recommend you give it a shot too if you like YA fantasy, romance and dragons!
YOU NEED THIS BOOK. This may be my favourite book I’ve read this year (Spear doesn’t count, while it came out this year, I read it last…) So, without further ado, read the review and then run to your preferred retailer.
Huge thanks to the lovely Kate at Hodder for sending me an ARC and making me a very happy Fab. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 23/08/2022
STAR RATING: 5/5 ✶
SUMMARY: As one of the few witches in Britain, Mika Moon has lived her life by three rules: hide your magic, keep your head down, and stay away from other witches. An orphan raised by strangers from a young age, Mika is good at being alone, and she doesn’t mind it … mostly.
But then an unexpected message arrives, begging her to travel to the remote and mysterious Nowhere House to teach three young witches, and Mika jumps at the chance for a different life.
Nowhere House is nothing like she expects, and she’s quickly tangled up in the lives and secrets of its quirky, caring inhabitants … and Jamie, the handsome, prickly librarian who would do anything to protect his charges, and who sees Mika’s arrival as a threat. An irritatingly appealing threat.
As Mika finds her feet, the thought of belonging somewhere starts to feel like a real possibility. But magic isn’t the only danger in the world, and soon Mika will need to decide whether to risk everything to protect the found family she didn’t know she was looking for… (from Hodderscape)
OPINIONS: This is a near perfect book. The best way to describe it is likely as a combination of Mary Poppins, Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The House in the Cerulean Sea and a good dose of comfort. It follows Mika Moon, a young witch who finds herself as a tutor to three young witches on a remote estate – complete with a gruff but loveable groundskeeper, a charming elderly gay couple looking after house and children and a missing guardian. It is the sort of book that makes you smile from the first page to the last, as the book’s UK editor described it to me.
I saved reading this for a day where I needed a comfort read and I was so glad I did. It is really the perfect book for those moments, and one I see myself rereading again and again when I need that sort of feeling – I hope there will be a myriad of beautiful special editions to add to my collection! My flatmate stole it after I read it and breezed through it – and I’m thrilled that I’ve managed to sell multiple friends on it before even writing this review.
It is a lovely story, not too relaxed but also not too fast-paced and full of tension. There is constantly something to focus your attention on and ensure the reader does not get bored, without raising anxiety levels. It is a character and vibe driven story, with relationships of various kinds at its centre. I found the development of those relationships delightful, tender and utterly realistic. While the central plot elements feel big to the people in the story, they are not in the grand scale of things, and it feels refreshing to read a book that is concerned with the small, with the fate of the immediate future of a group of children for the next few years, rather than saving the world.
In short. Get this book, you’ll love it. And it’s almost out, so there’s not even long to wait. Add The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches to your Goodreads here, and pre-order a copy via Bookshop here (affiliate link).
Greek mythology? YA? Wonderful, immersive writing? Yes please. Add a gorgeous Micaela Alcaino cover to the mix and I’m well and truly suckered in. And Daughter of Darkness doesn’t disappoint. It’s less a retelling than a story rooted in the world of Greek mythology, doing its own thing, which is pretty cool – I’m really looking forward to seeing more reactions as I can see this being really popular, hitting on a lot of current YA trends.
Many thanks to Hot Key Books for sending me an ARC, as always, all opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Deina is trapped. As one of the Soul Severers serving the god Hades on Earth, her future is tied to the task of shepherding the dying on from the mortal world – unless she can earn or steal enough to buy her way out.
Then the tyrant ruler Orpheus offers both fortune and freedom to whoever can retrieve his dead wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld. Deina jumps at the change. But to win, she must enter and uneasy alliance with a group of fellow Severers she neither likes nor trusts.
So begins their perilious journey into the realm of Hades… The prize of freedom is before her – but what will it take to reach it?
OPINIONS: This was a really fun read – it hit my mythology obsession perfectly, and the Corr sisters know how to write a story that grips the reader and compels you to finish the book in a single sitting. In short, the story is as tempting as that beautiful cover is. While this is deeply grounded in Greek mythology, this is entirely a new story, using the known stories as a foundation, but creating a new narrative rather than retelling something familiar. In some ways, this reminded me a bit of some of the books I read during the 2010s YA boom, but in a good way.
I don’t think this is going to go onto my favourites shelf, but I did really enjoy reading it, and I am very much looking forward to the second book in the series. The Corr sisters clearly know how to tell a story and how to get their readers invested in their characters. Because I’m me, I obviously kept wishing this was queer, because that would have made me love it just that bit more, but really, it’s very solid as it is. Deina is an interesting main character, and I enjoyed reading her story. It’s not a super deep book, but a good read, and I’ll likely reread it soon.
I have a complete soft spot for middle grade! On a sad day, there’s nothing better than devouring a book written for kids – they are usually incredibly immersive and captivating, and provide great escapism, so are wonderful for taking a mini-break from our own problems. And Mia and the Lightcasters is an exciting debut from a new voice that I’m sure we’ll hear much more from – I loved the world of the Umbra and I can’t wait for you all to read this wonderful book too.
Many thanks to Bethany at Faber for sending me an ARC. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 04/08/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Mia always dreamed of being an umbra tamer until she met the wild creature on the Nightmare Plains. Since that day, she prefers to stay safe within the walls of Nubis. Safe, that is, until a surprise attack. With her parents captured, Mia’s only hope is to travel to the City of Light to find help. But with only her little brother, two friends and one solitary tamed umbra, the journey feels impossible. Mia not only has to overcome her fears, she also has to learn to harness her umbra taming abilities if they are to complete the quest in time. (from Faber)
OPINIONS: This was such a fun read! Maybe it’s because I’m currently immersed in kids books all day, but I’m on such a children’s fiction roll. And a promising new middle grade series that doesn’t only come with cute creatures, but also interior illustrations? Count me in. Yes, I’m a sucker for pictures in books. For all ages. For the record, if it were up to me, every single book would have at least one piece of interior black and white art. Anyway. Mia and the Lightcasters. Janelle McCurdy has given us an impeccable debut, one that wouldn’t go amiss among the likes of Rick Riordan Presents. It is compelling, fast paced, and full of great characters and a world that the reader just wants to get stuck into.
The stars of the show in Mia and the Lightcasters are the Umbra. Beasts that can be tamed, but which can evolve between different forms – reminiscent of Pokémon in that respect – but very, very real to Mia and her world. Mia’s always dreamed of being a real-life Umbra tamer, but her first encounter one was quite different from what she imagined. And then Mia doesn’t have too much of a choice in facing her fears…
I loved seeing not just Mia, but also Jada, the older tamer, as Black girls who just did their thing and weren’t used as a narrative device, which unfortunately is something that isn’t too common in UK kidlit yet. This makes Mia and the Lightcasters an especially important book for the UK industry – it shows Faber’s commitment to diversity in actions, rather than just words, and I am thrilled for the kids for whom this is a milestone in representation – though I wish it was standard rather than something to single out… Initially I was sad that there wouldn’t be a pretty hardcover of the book, but the more I think about it, the happier I am that it is indeed a paperback original – making it all the more accessible to the children who need this book. More books like this please, publishing industry, put your money where your mouth is.
There seems to be an upswing in casual crime novels about killing people you’re supposed to care about – last year brought us Bella Mackie’s awesome How to Kill Your Family, and now Lexie Elliot comes in with How to Kill Your Best Friend. Fitting that I was reading this while visiting one of my best friends… Though, unfortunately, not on a lovely beach, but in a city heatwave.
Many thanks to Amber and Hannah at Midas PR for sending me a review copy. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 02/09/2022
STAR RATING: 3/5 ✶
SUMMARY: Georgie, Lissa and Bronwyn have been best friends since they met on their college swimming team. Now Lissa is dead – drowned off the coast of the remote island where her second husband owns a luxury resort. But could a star open-water swimmer really have drowned? Or is something more sinister going on?
Brought together for Lissa’s memorial, Georgie, Bron, Lissa’s grieving husband and their friends find themselves questioning the circumstances around Lissa’s death – and each other. As the weather turns ominous, trapping the guests on the island, it slowly dawns on them that Lissa’s death was only the beginning. Nobody knows who they can trust. Or if they’ll make it off the island alive… (from Corvus)
OPINIONS: I was drawn into this by the title and cover, to be entirely honest. I have been on a bit of a mystery binge for comfort reading, and it intrigued me – especially as someone who adores water and would like nothing more than to be able to go for a daily open-water swim. But I found this an odd read. The most jarring element, to me, was that not a single one of the characters, of this supposed friend group, seemed to actually like each other. And yes, it may have been one of those situations where you become friends, and then stay friends out of habit, but it was still strange. There just wasn’t any true affection between any of them, and at various points of the story I thought any one of them had reason to commit the inciting murder.
I did really like the atmosphere, the backdrop of an isolated island together with a crumbling world of luxury. And I do have to give this one to Lexie Elliot, despite the characters frustrating me to no end, they were all complex and multi-layered, interesting people. But ultimately the pacing of the story felt off, with too much happening at once, and then not for a long time, and then pivoting in a completely different direction. It was a fun read, and I breezed through it rather quickly. But in the end, it didn’t feel as satisfying as I was hoping it would, and I was left slightly disappointed with the book as a whole.
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.