Peacemaker is a brand new series by acclaimed Australian author Marianne De Pierres, her first partnership with the Angry Robots publishing house. I was super revved up with the initial press release and excitement that surrounded this announcement as this promised to be the beginning of a new wonderful series giving us iconic epic characters, a no-nonsense tough as nails sharp-shooting heroine Virgin Jackson and an American cowboy “Marshall”, Nate Sixkiller.
The book is set in a futuristic Australia – where Virgin is a senior park ranger at the last natural reserve in this world, Birrimun Park – a tourist attraction and the center of ecological preservation inside a huge coastal city overrun by urbanization and exploitation of nature. When Virgin is paired with a new “marshall” – fresh from the rodeo drives of texas, a handsome hulk who looks like he’s stepped out of male underwear billboard advertisement – but with his clothes on and a pair of shiny six-guns holstered by his hips – things turn topsy-turvy in her perfectly orderly life.
Virgin has a vision from her long forgotten childhood – an owl (“disincarnate” as the phlegmatic Sixkiller calls it) a sighting that is mostly a premonition for trouble. And with the discovery of a murder within the park, Virgin’s world is plunged right into a maelstrom of trouble. Least of which is her angsty relationship with her new partner and the ghost of her father, the unsolved murder mystery that torments her day and night.
My first impressions after I whipped through the book in less than a day’s time were this: a really earnest attempt at combining some new elements to form an interesting cauldron – urban fantasy and a bit of magical realism couched within a wrapping of the western. Although pretty enjoyable a read, the whole final product seemed a little washed out to me. Like Marianne was holding off on certain pieces and still arraying her pieces on the board for a longer innings. Some intriguing mythologies combined with blistering action set within dark ghetto-like surroundings, creepy psychics and lots of good looking hunky men. That is what I remember most about it, a day after having wrapped up this book. Try as I might, the story or the plot didn’t stick to me. Overall, I would say this book was a bit underwhelming for all the hype that surrounds it. Take away that PR-generated heat and the book looks like a beginning to an interesting series, but unfinished and not out of the ordinary.
In Virgin Jackson, we get a conflicted heroine – one who is not afraid to plunge into the sea of issues that threatens to drown her, finger on the trigger and a pretty balanced head on her shoulders. And yet all the travails that Virgin falls into, she relies either on her best friend, Corah or the hunky cowboy Nate to fish her out of. Not to forget the male stripper boy Heart Williams who plays her on-off boyfriend/lover boy who makes your heart-ache with that perfectly formed derriere of his. Yeah. Can’t really fault our girl here who is lost and confused huh? Add to the mix, the bumbling tech-whiz who goes beetroot red and has a fetish for dolls and a larger-than-drops-of-jupiter crush on our heroine. A pretty mix you say? Oh it gets worse. We even get a blink-and-miss heartthrob assassin who takes a liking to Virgin and is like her guardian angel. With four such angels, how the hell would a girl get in trouble you ask? Oh mistaken you are – she still manages to drag herself into all sorts of issues.
Downtown Australia after sunset is a weird creepy place. Full of spear and javelin wielding natives who don’t like their areas encroached and react non-favorably, gangster papas who cannot say “fucking” properly, mind-reading psychics who love a big Indian bindi ( ahem, a large dash of vermilion splashed on the forehead for either religious or fashionable purposes!) and a huge bull who snorts and runs but doesn’t really threaten to much damage. Confused? Yeah. There is a lot going on and Marianne writes without giving us much breather. Events flow pretty smoothly one after the other and we are left devouring page after page. Even Virgin talking to herself to figure out the mess and the pieces don’t help us piece things together. I kept thinking, where is all this heading to?
Another theme that runs throughout the background is the mystery surrounding Virgin’s dad’s supposed murder within the park. Sadly we never really dig into much meat as the novel wraps up abruptly setting up for the second book where the stakes are higher (obviously!)
Overall, with a scattershot directionless narrative that goes into overdrive, I felt the book suffered from being a little loose and we are left with just enough skeletal fragments to piece together a confusing plot. Peacemaker is perhaps the start to something good – the great things about this book are a well realized world that suffers from over-urbanization and has lots of “other worlds” spinning around us, tons of nail-biting drama and one kickass heroine. But the sum of parts never really overwhelmed the whole and the first in a series seems to be just that. A placeholder for greater things to come. I liked it but my feelings don’t anywhere near “YAAY! Loved Virgin Kickass Jackson!”