Virgin Jackson is one of the rangers in Birimun park, a Wild West themed tourist attraction replicating a desert, in the heart of the bustling Australian metropolis. It’s not post-apocalypse, or even apocalypse. It’s pre-Apocalypse. Australia, and I suppose by extension the rest of the world, is perched right on the edge of the collapse of civilisation, the height of pride before the proverbial fall.
We join Virgin at the end of the day as she finishes her shift, and she has just had the unwelcome news that she is being saddled with a partner for the purposes of investigating the possibility that the park is being used after hours in a drug operation. As she’s leaving she witnesses a murder, but she’s late to go pick up the new partner at the airport! Virgin decides to call it in on the way there, which she doesn’t actually do, based on the assumption that because no one can get into the park after hours there’s no danger of the crine scene being disturbed… having apparently forgotten that the murder itself happened after the park was already closed and she is about to begin an investigation into drug runners using the park to smuggle drugs after hours.
There are several of these examples of flawed logic and continuity errors which, I feel, should have been caught in the proofreading/editing process. There is a scene where Virgin’s new partner, Nate Sixkiller, is enthusing to her boss about the exquisite view of the park from the window of the highrise office they are in, despite Virgin explicitly explaining in the previous paragraph that there is an aerial security field that prevents any outside view being possible. She specifically repeats in the following paragraph that the aerial security field prevents anyone from being able to see into the park from the building they are in.
Virgin is also continually frustrated that the police think she is the killer, although she deliberately holds off reporting the crime, withholds evidence and leads, and is uncooperative in interviews. She also gets angry at Sixkiller for hiding evidence and information from her, despite the fact that she has been doing exactly the same thing to him.
Apart from these small problems, Peacemaker is a fun sci-fi western with a whole bunch of other problems, two of which are so big that I can’t engage suspension of disbelief and just walk past them, and those are race and rape culture.
We’ll start with the race issue. Peacemaker is set in Australia, and the idea is that a shadowy cabal of terrorists who call themselves Korvus (Crows and ravens fall under the title of Corvids) are attempting to steal Indigenous Australian culture so that they can unite all the people of the world under a single shared ideology in order to… destabilise the global economy? Their symbol is the Crow- which one of the characters sagely announces is a cultural hero in every native culture in the world (it’s not). Now, apart from the issue of describing Australia’s 500+ clan groups as a singular culture, not one single character in Peacemaker ever so much as suggests that they should consult an Indigenous Australian person. The traditional owners of the land on which Birimun Park stands are mentioned exactly once, in a single sentence when Virgin is relating a story about her environmental activist father. After the Native Title claim they held was revoked in order to build the wild west themed park, they just sort of disappeared, nameless, into the ether. The suggestion is that since there is no ‘natural’ land or outback anymore, then there are no Aboriginal people left either.
Nate Sixkiller, as a Native American, has the dubious pleasure of standing as a representative for all the world’s native cultures. He is devastatingly handsome, with razorsharp cheekbones, and mesmerizes an entire busload of people with his exotic beauty. But he does not contribute any of the insight you might be excused for presuming that he has. Instead, he is strictly relegated to Virgin’s sidekick/bodyguard, despute the fact that as a US marshal he is better informed and resourced than Virgin, a ranger in a themed nature park.
Now, partial credit to De Pierres- the crow is the fire bringing trickster hero she describes to some Aboriginal clans, such as the Wurundjeri. But crucially, it is not to many others, and having already referred to a singular Indigenous ‘culture’, my complaint here is that this information is all widely available on the internet and all the author had to do was google search and see that it might not hurt to acknowledge that Australia is a bit more complicated and diverse than she’d realised.
The entire future Australia imagined by De Pierres appears to be one where the White Australia Policy finally succeeded, there is a casual mention of an ‘Asylum Seeker War’, with no context, and a little more detail about a total immigration ban. Even the slums of the bladerunner-esque metropolis are full of the “lower” whites, such as the Slavic or Romany. This might be another reason why Sixkiller gets stared at on the bus. He is literally the only person of colour on the entire continent. Again, the problem with this is that none of the characters seem to consider this an issue or articulate any desire that it should be different. Everyone is totally comfortable with it being up to Virgin, a white woman with a spirit animal, to stop Korvus fron appropriating Australia’s “Indigenous culture.”
Ok, now, the rape culture problem. This was something I did not expect to encounter from a female author in a book written in 2014.
Early in the book Virgin discovers that one of her coworkers, named Totes, has been stalking her. He has her apartment bugged. Virgin kind of just brushes it off, and it gets lost at first among the myriad other crimes that are being committed, but eventually the dust settles enough for Virgin to be mad about it. Except her friend Caro, a petite and beautiful blonde (who is also a hard hitting investigative journalist with ptsd from her time in a conflict zone), tells her repeatedly to let it go, that she should be flattered by his attention, and this is a direct quote: “you kind of have to respect the level of obssession he has over you.” No. Nope. No one owes their stalker gratitude for their unwanted attention. It escalates and later Totes gives Virgin a doll which he made for her himself and which is obviously a nanny-cam. Not only does she keep it, she leaves it out in her living room. Now, because the police hate her so much at this point, I can grudgingly understand why she didn’t take it to them immediately. In this situation I would have accepted throwing it away or putting it in a drawer. Spoiler alert, Totes is revealed at the end to be a secret agent and his surveillance of Virgin is related to the larger global conspiracy the book leads up to. But that still means that for the overwhelming majority of the book, as far as Virgin knows, she is being stalked by the lonely and doll-obsessed IT guy that works at the park. And not only does she excuse his behaviour to others, she allows others to chastise her for not being grateful enough. If I had a tween/teen daughter reading this I would be appalled. Even worse that it attempts to rationalise it by saying at the end ‘it’s ok because it turns out he’s one of the good guys! It was all for her own good after all!’
What woman even now, never mind in a dog-eat-dog future, can take that risk? What woman should have to meekly nod her head when people tell her that she’s the one in the wrong for not returning that man’s interest?
I’m a bit uncomfortable ending this review as the flamer that it has become, so in summation here are three things that I did like about Peacemaker.
1. Virgin’s horse is cool.
2. Nate Sixkiller’s spirit animal, a water buffalo, hates him and will only deign to intervene if he is absolutely about to die.
3. I had so much fun rage-texting my friends as I read this book, it was almost as good as actually enjoying it.
Peacemaker by Marianne De Pierres gets one star out of five from me.