#REVIEW: The Peacekeeper, by B.L. Blanchard

I kinda feel bad about this one, I’ll admit it.

The last time I did a review of a book I’d been sent for review purposes was Scorpica, which turned out pretty well. In fact, rereading my review just now, it seems like that book has grown in my estimation since I read it. After that review got posted the publicist emailed me and sent me a list of the other books she was currently representing, and, well, the description for The Peacekeeper really grabbed me:

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.

Like, y’all know me by now. That’s my shit right there, and I jumped at this book. I’d have jumped at it even if it hadn’t been offered to me for free. A murder mystery set in an uncolonized North America? I’m in. Gimme.

I’ll cut to the chase, because I don’t like writing bad reviews unless I can make them entertaining: I needed more from this book than I got, and ended up disappointed. “North America was never colonized” is kind of a big deal, and it’s just sort of taken as a given, to the point where this book might as well have been set on another planet. It’s “now,” roughly, but there’s reference to a few big wars in the last couple of decades, and we’re on Mars, and the Ojibwe nation is more or less a utopia, in a way that ends up feeling kind of patronizing to the actual Ojibwe.(*) The murder mystery itself is kind of boring, the main character is a bit of a wanker, and the killer is clear from roughly a third of the way into the book, and I am generally very bad at predicting the killer in mysteries.

If any one of these elements were where I wanted them to be– either a little bit of explanatory history, or at least a map, or if the central mystery was more compelling, or the main character less one-note and whiny, I’d have been able to ignore the other flaws. But unfortunately the only thing that kept me from putting this down was the idea that I’d agreed to review it. I didn’t hate it– if I had, this would have been more fun to write– but I just don’t have anything good to say about it. As it stands, unfortunately, it’s just kind of blandly mediocre, and a book with this interesting of a premise being mediocre is a serious letdown.

(*) I kind of want to spend a lot of time talking about this and I kind of don’t; the notion that Ojibwe culture is the best in the world is so consistent throughout the book to the point where it feels weirdly jingoistic and propagandistic, and that’s a damned weird thing to say about a fictional country. Like, one character is an economist and a university lecture, and his alibi for the murder is that he was giving a lecture about how the Ojibwe economic system was the best in the world at a prestigious conference. That is … not how economists talk, and generally not how “prestigious conferences” go, either.

Covid Update, Day 5

This kinda sucks, y’all.

I’m taking at least one more day. The earliest I could go back is tomorrow and I’m not going to; I still have a fever, or maybe have a new fever, and the fatigue over the last couple of days has been intense. I’ve taken three naps today. That’s not a joke. I probably could have spent the whole day asleep today if I’d really wanted to.

Part of me feels like I ought to suck it up and go in, and part of me is like 99.5 is a fucking fever, dude, and you have to stand for eight hours. You can’t even lie down for eight hours right now. The really weird thing is that I genuinely don’t have a hell of a lot right now in terms of other symptoms. I had the one night of nightmare chills, about a day and a half of a rough cough, and today there’s been some digestive stuff, which is weirder than it sounds because I haven’t been eating all that much.

I dunno. I’ve been sicker. I’ve been a lot sicker. But this reminds me of going on to brain drugs right now. All I want is to sleep.

I’ve been promising book reviews for a couple of days now, and I haven’t had the energy for them, so let me do this at least: I’ve just read Hunger of the Gods, the second book in John Gwynne’s Bloodsworn trilogy, and The Rage of Dragons, the first book in Evan Winter’s The Burning. The second book of The Burning is out and on my Unread Shelf; I’ll probably get to it pretty quickly. I’ve already reviewed the first book in the Bloodsworn quartet, and the short version is that the second book absolutely lives up to the promise of the first; right now these two books are my favorite things I’ve read this year and I don’t know how I’m going to make it a year (at least, as there’s no release date yet) for the third book.

Rage of Dragons actually scratches a pretty similar itch to the Bloodsworn books, only with a culture inspired by the Xhosa and the Zulu instead of the Norse. I kind of feel bad discussing it in the same post as the Bloodsworn, because it’s not the achievement that those books are– but it’s important to point out that this is Winter’s debut novel, and John Gwynne has been around for a good while now. This book focuses on a single main character rather than employing rotating POVs, and it’s pretty explicitly a revenge story, to the point where it can feel a little one-note at times. But it’s done well and I’m looking forward to the sequel. Honestly, if you enjoyed Bloodsworn, you’ll like this one too.

#REVIEW: King of the Rising, by Kacen Callender

I was not a huge fan of the first volume of Kacen Callender’s Islands of Blood and Storm duology, Queen of the Conquered. Feel free to click through to the review, of course, but the short version is that I felt like the book was both too ambitious for its own good and a main character who was not only not especially likable to the reader but was also flatly detested by literally every single character in the book. It had potential, though, and I decided to keep an eye on Callender in the future although at the time I wasn’t committing to picking up the sequel to the book.

Well. Kacen Callender is from St. Thomas, in the US Virgin Islands, and I hadn’t read a book from there last year, so …

It took a while to get to it; in fact, when I picked it up yesterday it had been on my unread shelf since 2021, and had spent more time there than any other book on the shelf. I honestly just picked it up to get it out of the way, and for a brief moment I considered not actually reading it, since it’s not like the Read Around the World thing is something official any longer.


It’s a lot better.

King of the Rising begins exactly where Queen of the Conquered left off, at the beginning of a massive slave revolt on an archipelago colonized by the white-skinned Fjern, and if you want the historical equivalent you need nothing more than to recall that Callender is a St. Thomian, and St. Thomas was colonized by the Dutch. What makes this a fantasy novel and not just thinly-veiled historical fiction is the existence of Kraft, which is basically X-Men style magical powers that some of the characters possess. Kraft, if I’m being honest, is the weakest part of the book and in general its main role in the plot is to give the main character of this book and the main character of the last book a way to communicate with each other across long distances.

That switch in narrators is probably the singe change that that played the biggest role in my enjoying this book more than Queen. Sigourney was kind of rough as a narrator. She was very passive in a lot of ways and literally everyone hated her, and she just wasn’t a great choice as an MC. This book is told from the perspective of Løren Jannik, her half-brother, and while Sigourney still plays a pretty significant role in the story, Løren is a much more dynamic character than she was. He is still flawed, certainly; one of the major themes of the book is leadership during crisis, and the book isn’t interested in backing away from his failures as both a leader of the revolt and as a person in general. But the main thing is that he makes decisions during the book and while some of them are definitely bad decisions, at least he acts throughout the course of the book. Sigourney was just too passive, and pushing her offscreen or at least into the background made King of the Rising a superior read.

I probably should have put this first, but, like, you don’t need a trigger warning for this one, do you? Because this book is about a slave revolt against a colonial slave power, with everything that implies, and it can be a really fucking rough read. If you read Queen of the Conquered you should absolutely pick this up even if you didn’t particularly like it. If you did like Queen, I feel like you’ll really enjoy this one.

Monthly Reads: April 2022

Book of the Month is John Scalzi’s The Kaiju Preservation Society.

Unread Shelf: April 30, 2022

I’m starting to catch up with my Christmas books and my Barnes & Noble Half Off Hardcovers books, but people keep writing more things.