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.
When I read the premise for this book, I knew I had to read it and find out what North America might have become by the Twenty-First Century without the Europeans claiming the land through genocide and seeding it with slaves from Africa.
The world Brooke Blanchard builds is vivid and as plausible as it is surprising. I liked that the geopolitics and cultural infrastructure stayed in the background, letting me focus on the day to day life both in the small village where the action starts and the big (but very different) city where the action moves to. Showing me the world through the eyes of a guy who has never left his village and then dropping him into the big city for the first time when he’s on the edge of falling apart from stress and grief made the world much more vivid.
The murder mystery which is both central to the story and provides a framework for world-building, was well done. I had a strong feeling about who the murderer must be from fairly early on but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment because I didn’t know the why or the how and I was curious about how the detective would find out the truth and how he would react to it when he did.
One of the strengths of the book is that the people in it don’t have the same values and reflexive reactions that folks in the West have today. Their way of dealing with conflict, the intent and mechanics of their legal system, their reaction to authority and their expectations of each other, are all differed from our norms and this difference became very clear in the context of a criminal investigation.
I was impressed how Brooke Blanchard used the situation and the personalities of the characters in it to bring these differences to light, slowly but consistently, making the point integral to the story, avoiding didacticism and yet still making me realise and challenge some of my assumptions around how investigators and those being investigated should behave.
One consequence of the differences in attitudes of both investigators and investigated was that the action in the story was much more low-key than a similar story set in the modern US would be. For me, this meant that the story didn’t have the tension of a typical thriller, but once I let go of expectation and accepted the story on its own terms, I was happy with the pace and tone of the book.
I think ‘Peacekeeper’ is impressive for bringing to life a truly alternative history, for avoiding treating that alternative as either a utopia or dystopia and seeing it instead as a different path taken and for driving the story through the emotions and perceptions of one badly damaged man, trying to solve the mystery of another tragedy coming his way after so much has already gone wrong.
I’ll be picking up the second book in the series ‘The Mother’ when it comes out next year.
Brooke Blanchard, who writes under the name B. L. Blanchard, is a graduate of the UC Davis creative writing honors program and was a writing fellow at Boston University School of Law.
She is a lawyer and enrolled member of the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.
She is originally from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan but now lives in California .
The Peacekeeper is her first novel.