This is, in places, quite hilariously awful. However, simply by virtue of the fact that you’re reading this here, you’ll be able to tell that I found something to like about it. More than that even, because there’s clearly going to be a sequel and I’m more than tempted to get it whenever it may come out.
(In the course of this there shall be SPOILERS, which I don’t usually care so much about flagging up, but given this is a fairly new release it seems only fair.)
Our narrator and heroine is a park ranger in the one remaining bit of wilderness embedded within a seemingly not-so-far future Australian megacity, apparently based upon the original Grand Theft Auto game complete with dodgy cops, distinctively themed city zones, and warring factions of various degrees of new-aged weirdness (up to and including the Moonies). She is an avowedly stubborn misanthrope, and has many, many conversations like this –
“Virgin Jackson,” I said into the mouthpiece.
“Yeah, boss?” Bull Hunt hated it when I was casual, which was most always.
“You haven’t forgotten have you, Virgin?”
I sighed. “Gate 65, Terminal 21. Tall guy wearing a uniform. His name’s Nate.”
“Not just Nate, Virgin. Marshal Nate Sixkiller. Great fricking grandson of Jonny Sixkiller, the-“
“-greatest Native American lawman in history. Yeah, Bull, I know.”
“And don’t you go all defensive on me. Nate Sixkiller’s good. Maybe the best.”
Well, that sure prickled me.
To recap, that’s Virgin Jackson, Bull Hunt, and Nate Sixkiller. Nate fricking Sixkiller (‘He’s good. Maybe the best’).
So the names are uniformly terrible, and the dialogue isn’t much better. Marshal Sixkiller is given an annoying habit of saying thet instead of that which is a tic that bears no relation to any accent I’ve ever heard, and is the only way his accent is manifested in the orthography. If it was all written in some kind of phonetic dialect I could go with it, but combine this with some pretty sloppy proof-reading (among several other examples: getting something backup is different from getting it back up, and within the space of two pages we get the same character addressing the same group of people as you-all, the more traditional y’all, and the frankly mystifying you’d be al) and you do have to wonder exactly how thorough the editorial process was. While it has a predictably impressive Joey Hi-Fi cover, a little more care lavished on the insides of the book wouldn’t have gone amiss.
But look, it’s pulp; dodgy dialogue and iffy typography are pretty much expected. It’s all played incredibly straight, and I can’t decide if that’s good or bad. Maybe a bit more genre-savvy irony, a couple of knowing winks to camera, might have allowed me to suspend my disbelief with a bit more ease. On the other hand, and despite the genuine novelty of the setting and world, so much of this book relies on standard tropes and clichés that any irony might just have rendered the whole thing just too preposterous, so it’s better that there isn’t any. I’m leaning to the second interpretation.
Anyway, to return to our chastely monikered heroine. Virgin is a bullheaded loner, as she never tires of letting us know, and as such she appears to have only one genuine friend. Caro is introduced on page 21 thusly –
“Hi Ginny.” She was the only person in the world who could call me that. “You want to go for a drink?”
“Can’t. Working tonight. New guy in town and I have to look after him.”
I sighed. Caro had been obsessing over my single status since I turned twenty-nine a few months ago. I would have preferred that she worry about her own, but she maintained that it was because she didn’t want to be stuck with me in old age.
“Work.” I said.
She let it pass, though I could see her storing it away for a future conversation. She was an investigative journalist. Her kind never let anything go.
Your twenty-ninth birthday was it? An investigative journalist you say? Why? Why are you saying this? The first person narration is never explained away using any sort of device (diary, letters, etc) and so we must assume that we’re just in Virgin’s head. What kind of psycho’s internal monologue involves randomly reiterating basic facts about their lives, such as their age and the occupation of their BFF? Why are they telling us things they already know (apart from the desire of the author to prioritize establishing the setting over characterization and reader immersion, of course)? Clunky Exposition 101 right there.
It’s also worth noting that, if you are going to have only one friend in the world, it sure is fortunate if it’s someone with networks and resources who knows how to winkle information out of supposedly inaccessible places, especially if you happen to find yourself under suspicion for a murder you didn’t commit which renders more official lines of enquiry untrustworthy. What a stroke of luck, eh? Caro is basically a Sonic Screwdriver made flesh. Got an intractable plot point that needs resolving? Call Caro. She can unpick that lock, or knows a man who can, or is owed unspecified but extremely useful favours by unspecified but extremely useful contacts. While Virgin is gallivanting around being pissed off with everyone and making poor decisions, Caro is busily finding stuff out and fixing shit. You can’t help but feel that her side of the story would be far more interesting.
I don’t want to call Caro’s seeming omnipotence lazy plotting, firstly because that would be just plain rude, but also because we’re offered just a small grain of hope that there is some sense of organizing logic behind all the plot-related chaos. There’s an obvious undercover agent and a clear Luke/Leia thing going on with the two leads. Though in fairness, unlike the Skywalker siblings this one seems to have been planned in advance, and likewise you are given just enough in the way of hints and suggestions to hope that suspiciously convenient plot-points are suspicious for reasons other than weak writing; that you’d be wary of the coincidence if you were in Virgin’s shoes as well. That said, the big reveal at the end is basically that it was all a giant conspiracy and we need to stay tuned for Part Two. I get the desire to leave some loose ends for the next installment, but just yelling ‘global conspiracy’ is a pretty unsatisfying way of tying off those few ends which are; the technothriller equivalent of ‘she woke up and it was all a dream.’
In summary then: the dialogue is weak, the exposition is laboured, the plotting is overly convenient, and the names are face-meltingly stupid. But Virgin is, eventually, quite an engaging narrator, and all those plates are set spinning with such chaotic verve, and on such an original stage, that you can’t help but continue to watch. You’re constantly aware that they may all come crashing down at any point, but de Pierres somehow manages to find (some admittedly contrived) ways of keeping them all turning no matter how much the poles may wobble. And wobble they do, widely and violently, but after a while you realize that you’re so mesmerized by the spectacle that the other stuff doesn’t really matter anymore. Peacemaker provides a discouraging start and a slightly disappointing finish, but a wildly, gloriously ridiculous show in between, and that’s definitely worth tipping your Stetson to.