By B.L. Blanchard



308pp/$14.95/June 2022

The Peacekeeper
Cover by Molly von Borstel

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

B.L. Blanchard's debut novel, The Peacekeeper is set in an alternate world in which Europeans did not colonize the Americas, but instead found vibrant cultures there with which to trade. Set in 2020, Blanchard's story focuses on the small city of Baawitigong, located where Anishinaabwei-gichi-gami meets Naadowewi-gichi-gami, approximately where Sault Ste Marie sits and Lakes Superior and Huron meet.

Chibenashi is a Peacekeeper in Baawitigong, a junior member of their three-person police force. Opening during the festival of Manoomin, during which crowds from around the world descend on the village, one of Chibenashi's neighbors, Meoquanee, is murdered. A surrogate mother to Chibenashi since his own mother was murdered exactly twenty years earlier, he nevertheless takes a primary role in the investigation.

Through his investigation, the reader is introduced to the people in his life, not only his sister, Ashwiyaa, left almost catatonic since their mother's murder, but also his colleagues on the police force, various friends, the long shadow of the two dead women, and his distant incarcerated Father. The investigation would serve to not only find out who killed Meoquanee, but also open old wounds that had long since scabbed over and forced Chibenashi to temporarily leave his sister and Baawitigong behind to travel to Shikaakwa on the southern shore of Ininwewi-gichi-gami to interview Meoquanee's estranged husband and son.

The Peacekeeper is an excellent example of world building, character study, and murder mystery. The North America Blanchard depicts does not attempt to be a recreation of any specific native American culture, but rather an extrapolation of what one of those cultures may have looked like with hundreds of years of mercantile exchange with the rest of the world and technological advancement. Cell phones are plentiful and Shikaakwa is full of skyscrapers which incorporate living things. Perhaps most intriguing is the justice system, which is not based on punishment or restitution, but rather on finding agreements that allow the victim to achieve equilibrium and closure.

One recurring theme is the power of love, but Blanchard explores it in a variety of ways. Foremost is Chibenashi's love for his sister that has caused him to ignore his own wants and desires in order to stay in Baawitigong, even when it means giving up the chance for romance. Chibenashi also witnesses the dark side of love when he attends a Mediation in Shikaakwa in which a jealous ex-boyfriend attacked his former girlfriend and her new boyfriend, explaining “I loved her so much. I still do. That's I did what I did. Love. When you love someone, you can justify anything.” Although Dakaasin, the victim's advocate in the case, feels that indifference is a bigger driving force than love, much of The Peacekeeper is driven by love, and even when indifference comes into play, it is clear that whether the indifference really exists is a matter of perspective.

Blanchard has created a complex and interesting world, but the one place The Peacekeeper falls to cliché is when Meoquanee's murderer feels the need to express their cleverness and monologues at length, not only confessing to the crime, but laying out exactly how it was accomplished and the red herrings that Chibenashi and the other peacekeepers fell for. Although Blanchard manages to incorporate the monologue into the book, it does feel out of place. While this sort of exposition might damage a lesser book, it can almost be overlooking in The Peacekeeper, which does so many other things well.

The world in which Chibenashi attempts to solve crimes is both familiar and unique. Even when he travels to Shikaakwa and experiences the big city, the differences between his world and ours are on display, from the living buildings to the repetition of names, for people, places, and concepts, which are far from the American norm. The book shines when it tackles the differences with more subtlety, whether through its exploration of the legal system to the difference between the manoomin Chibenashi is used to and the white rice he discovers when taken to a Mongolian restaurant in Shikaawka. Blanchard's The Peacekeeper is a debut novel that ends exactly when it should, but also way too soon.

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