Book Review: Peacekeeper by Laura E. Reeve

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.”

That’s what countless educational specials told you when you were a kid. There’s a lesson there about how it’s not what’s outside a person, but inside that’s important. Maybe the special episode squeezed in some other life-lessons as well. But, now that you’re a grown-ass adult (or at least I am, mostly), you can take that saying a bit more literally. Which is to say, marketers lie.

Case in point, Laura E. Reeve’s Peacekeeper.

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COMBAT TANKTOP

But joke’s on Marketing! I snagged this book for like fifty cents at a thrift store! Which … may be why the binding’s all crappy and pages are falling out, but still!

So yeah. Reeve’s Peacekeeper centers around Major Ariane Kedros, a hard-case space-war pilot. Back during the (space) War, Kedros was the pilot of a spaceship that dropped a space-nuke, leading to the (possible) deaths of the over four billion people Kedros dropped it on. So, y’know, she got issues. Plus, in these novels, FTL travel is really, really hard on people to begin with, so it’s understandable why Kedros is a raging (if mostly functional) alcoholic. And if that wasn’t enough, in return for getting a new identity after dropping the space-nuke, Kedros is ‘recruited’ into the space-CIA in order to do black ops shit. And honestly, there’s a lot of potential here for fun space opera/mil-SF adventures.

Hijinks that … never happen. See, while Kedros probably does wear a tank top at some point during the novel, she never picks up a laser rifle like on the cover. I went into the book expecting an ass-kicker along the lines of Torin Kerr, or Honor Harrington, or even someone like Mass Effect’s FemShep … and, uh, sadly, Kedros doesn’t live up to those admittedly high standards. Sure, she’s a tormented, interesting character … but she doesn’t do anything.

I should back up a bit. As, in Peacekeeper, Kedros discovers the other personnel from her space-nuke dropping mission are getting bumped off, one by one. Cool. Plenty of room for plot exploration there. It’s just that, in order to sniff out the spy, Kedros is assigned to … a space-nuclear-weapons inspection detail. And admittedly, such a tense atmosphere is ripe for storytelling (especially with grudge-carrying people from the other side conducting the inspection) but … it never really pays off. Because, again, Kedros doesn’t do much. She’s ordered about, blackmailed, overpowered, kidnapped, drugged, tortured, stripped, nearly raped, and occasionally rescued … she comes off as a passive, reactive character. There’s never the sort of cathartic ‘well, now I have to beat the shit out of you’ kind of moment one would get from Torin Kerr or Honor Harrington or FemShep (Renegade interrupt FTW).

Honestly, Peacekeeper is a bit of a jumble. Reeve focuses on themes like substance abuse and PTSD, and does so very well. The whole idea of trying to get past using a space-WMD reminded me of the first Culture novel I read, Look to Windward. The problem is, Reeve isn’t nearly as skilled a writer as Banks (which, to be honest, is a damn high bar to set). It’s not that I’m cranky over the book not featuring tons of laser firefights, but rather, I just found it to be a kind of jumbled novel. Honestly, Peacekeeper has the feel of a Romance novel that got its genre changed at the very last moment. See, Kedros has a bunch of men in her life– her mysterious ex-boyfriend, the smarmy polygamist space-prince who hates her but also owes his life to her, the ‘bad boy’ space-CIA agent who alternates between using and procecting her from space-espionage, and her civillian ‘nice guy’ partner in a space-prospecting business.

Space-nice-guy, by the way, is the most boring character in the book. Which is a pain because he’s also the secondary viewpoint character. Who, again, gets led through his particular plot without managing to do much of anything besides say “wait, does Colonel Asshole have feelings for Ari? Oh shit, do I have feelings for Ari?” And then we get no sense of closure whatsoever. First in a series, kids.

And the thing is? Reeve kicks around some honestly interesting ideas. For one, her sci-fi setting is vaguely Greek-flavored, apparently hailing from a timeline where Alexander the Great helped spread advanced Mathematics which led to, uh … space Greeks, I guess. Complete with planets named ‘Athens Point’ and bull-themed possible-aliens dubbed ‘Minoans.’ Thing is, I kinda wish Reeve leaned harder into this alt-history route– maybe with more classical Greek-ish attitudes towards homosexuality, or at least some really tasty gyros.

It’s worth mentioning that one of Reeve’s most interesting ideas is about food. See, there’s a social/cultural divide between plain planet-born humans and those who are born on generational starships. For one, the ship-born have cool indicative last names like ‘Voyage’ or ‘Journey.’ And on top of that, ship-born are so used to eating vat-grown hydroponic food that the very idea of vegetables grown in actual dirt is horrifying to them. It’s a great little touch, even if it seems like the space-military is a little too accommodating to space-born vs. ship-born tastes. I never served in the armed forces myself, but I know enough people who have to get the general impression that the food is pretty much terrible across the board. Such is the way of all armies, I’ve gathered. Then again, Reeve herself spent nine years in the Air Force, so maybe they eat better than the other branches.

All and all, Peacekeeper feels like a book that doesn’t know what it wants to be. There’s a Mil-SF milieu that lacks the kind of slam-bang action one could expect from the genre. There’s the foundations of a cheesy space-romance novel that never really play through. The closest the book gets to an emotional payoff is in seeing how Major Kedros manages to move forward in her life … which is interesting, but admittedly not very marketable. Hell, there’s even a ‘holy shit’ kind of space-opera-y plot MacGuffin for all the characters to chase after … that is mostly dealt with off camera and through the use of lawyers and contracts. What?

The thing is, if Reeve had leaned into the PTSD themes, or even into the whole cheesy space-romance angle, Peacekeeper would have been a far better book … but a far less marketable one. I mean, it’s probably easier to put a lady with a laser gun on the cover as opposed to somebody going through therapy.

… though now that I think of it, the image of some space-hero in full battle armor laying back on a psychologist’s couch is freaking hilarious.

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