MARIANNE DE PIERRES Mythmaker. Reviewed by Keith Stevenson
Virgin Jackson confronts demon wolves, gang lords and stone witches in this sequel to Peacemaker.
In 2014, Marianne De Pierres pulled off an impressive hat-trick with Peacemaker, the first book in her Virgin Jackson series, effortlessly blending crime, sci-fi and supernatural tropes into a refreshing urban fantasy. As a result, Peacemaker won the Aurealis Award for best science fiction novel.
Virgin was an engaging character, a strong woman who gave her trust sparingly and navigated the dangerous byways of the megalopolis that sprawled along the eastern seaboard of Australia as deftly as she rode her genetically enhanced horse through the desert reaches of Birrimun Park where she worked as a ranger.
Peacemaker ended with a slew of revelations, including the fact that the illegal people-smuggling operation uncovered in the park was controlled by a shadowy organisation, called the Korax, that had supernatural connections to another world, and that her estranged mother was heading up the Global Joint Intelligence Commission (GJIC), which was waging a secret war against these supernatural incursions. Virgin was also wrongly accused of a murder by the local police. GJIC made the charges ‘go away’ but then forced her to join their ranks by threatening to have the charges reinstated.
The follow-up, Mythmaker, sees Virgin drawn away from the park and working undercover with partner, now boss, Nate Sixkiller to spy on an academic at a nearby university:
‘The file says he’s been running salons on Animism for students,’ I added.
‘Makes a change from Creationism, I s’pose,’ observed Sixkiller, in a more casual tone.
‘So we’re supposed to determine if he’s a nut or a threat?’
I thought about that for a bit. ‘Animists believe that all creatures are created equal,’ I said.
‘More’n that… they don’t see a separation between physical and spiritual. They think that animals possess souls. And inanimates too, like rocks, rivers, even the wind.’
‘This kind of belief is nothing new, though. Animism features in a lot of religions. Why are we bothering with this guy?’
Sixkiller shrugged. ‘Cain’t rightly say. I’m not analysin’ data and looking for patterns. I go where they tell me. Investigate who they want me to.’
‘You don’t strike me as someone who goes blindly into any situation.’
‘Not blindly, Virgin. I trust my people. I trust your mo… the Commander. If she says we need to look at this guy, then we do.’
He said it like he was mentally folding his arms against any more questions, so I fell silent and stared out the window.
There are a few problems with the front half of the novel. Virgin has been forced to join GJIC, but it’s not clear why they need her. Her skill set is definitely not espionage and Sixkiller appears to be babysitting her. Later when she’s being trailed by a killer in the seamier part of town, she shows how ill-equipped she is for this kind of work, needing explicit instructions on exactly what to do to avoid getting killed. She frequently breaks protocol and as a result ends up in trouble. At one point she asks herself why GJIC wants her around. But rather than calling a halt and demanding an explanation from Sixkiller or her mother, this strong woman keeps quiet and does what she’s told. Her character is bent out of shape by what appears to be an artificial situation.
Equally the existential threat posed by the Korax is hard to understand and seems unlikely to come to pass. The supernatural entities behind the Korax are manipulating their human followers to bring about a situation where all the world’s religions are united into a single worldview. When this happens, humanity will accept a common mythology, which will allow the supernatural entities to manifest in our world en masse and wreak havoc:
Dad’s theory was simple. Dictate the world’s mythologies and you control the people. That’s what the Mythos was trying to do and that’s what we had to stop. But dictate the world’s mythologies was some kind of concept to get your head around. What did it even mean?
Throughout the book the answer to that question gets no clearer. But even if we take it at face value, is it ever likely that all the world’s religions will unite into one? Mythmaker is set not too far into our future, maybe 50 or 60 years judging by the technology they use. Given the state of religion on Earth today, if the bad guys need religious unification in order to succeed, we’re probably safe for a few hundred years, or maybe even a millennium … My willing suspension of disbelief took a severe battering on that point.
These disappointing story elements mean that Virgin floats through the first half of the book being acted on rather than acting, not understanding why things are happening and not really doing anything to remedy that situation. It’s a shame, because she’s a really great character, but she’s been hamstrung by a plot that has no clear direction.
The situation gets a little better when she’s attacked by demon wolves and then has to enter a war zone to broker a peace between gang lord Papa Brise, who is just as entertaining as he was in Book 1, and the shadowy stone witch Kaddee Matari. But while the second half of the novel is packed with incident, the plot does not progress in any meaningful way and by the end, although we are presented with an intriguing cliff-hanger, most of the events of the book could easily have been left out without materially affecting the outcome. I’m hoping things will ratchet up for the conclusion of Virgin’s tale in Book 3.
Marianne De Pierres Mythmaker Angry Robot Press 2015 PB 415pp $19.99
Keith Stevenson’s science fiction thriller Horizon is out now from HarperCollins Voyager Impulse. You can subscribe to his free newsletter Beyond for lovers of science and science fiction at http://eepurl.com/btvru1. Visit him at www.keithstevenson.com.
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