“Actually,” another twitch at his deep voice, and a slight hunching of her shoulders, “we are here to take you into custody, under authority of the Keepers.”
The room was silent. I wondered who would claim ownership of my estate in the event of my untimely death.
It took me a little while to get into it, but Making Peace sneaks up on you. Smith has crafted a fine debut. The steady stream of action is complemented by a lot of heart.
Belkan Candor is a bestselling romance author with a mountain of debts. His editor has a potential solution. A mystery patron wants a very different sort of book written. Which is how Belkan finds himself on Sivern.
The planet has forbidden all electronic technology. Doing so keeps the local galactic empire off their backs since they could never mount an effective rebellion armed with ceramic swords (magic ceramnic, but still). Which is kind of a weak rationale, but I’m not going to ask too many questions about my quasi-fantasy planet. Similarly with nano-mages whose “magic” is given a hand-wavy science-y sounding explanation.
Belkan is embedded with a cell of Keepers. The six Keepers in the first cell keep the peace between the top four Houses in Tiers, working to prevent another house war. But members of Second House are being attacked by hired thugs on the streets, and then the murders at First House start…
You can see the basic setup. It starts a little slow, but Making Peace really picks up steam as it goes. The fights get bloodier and more frequent, the mystery deepens, and Belkan starts to uncover all the pain each Keeper is carrying around with him or her. Each of the three is a strength of the book. For a pulpy adventure book, Making Peace is deep.
“Truth is, Bel,” Ugly started up again as our boots splashed through rain puddles, “men don’t deserve good women. Soft, hard, friendly, brutal, none of us deserve good women. Either we’re too weak to do them any good, or we’ve done terrible things to become as hardened as they need us to be. The thing about good women, though, is by their very nature they push us to be more than we’ve settled for. They make us want to find gentler solutions. They remind us humanity has value beyond being a resource to be spent or a vulnerability to exploit. They make us want to be better men. A good woman encourages men to strive harder every day.”
I do have a few quibbles. I can’t pin down exactly why it took me so long to get into Making Peace. Short chapters usually help move a story along, but earlier in the book I took the chapter breaks as an excuse to put it down (reading several other books at the same time didn’t help). Smith’s prose is fine, but he could perhaps use a little more of that special something that forces the reader to say, “One. More. Chapter.” over and over (and it’s more than just a cliffhanger).
Smith fleshes out the characters as the story progresses, and that’s one of the most satisfying elements of the book, but the characterization is hard won. Good on the back-end, but I would have gotten into the book faster, I think, if the characters jumped out at me early. My first couple quibbles are matters of craft, and pretty light for a debut author. My second two quibbles are with story choices.
I have Making Peace labeled as sword and planet, but it could have just as easily been a second-world fantasy. Nothing says you have to, but if you’re going to use a sword and planet setting, why not have a little fun with it and slip in some real science fiction elements? Both genetic modifications and non-human races are allowed on Sivern, but neither plays a significant role in the story (not counting the nano-mages) Finally, while I appreciate that the Keepers are willing to (and recognize the need to) cut a deal to keep the peace, it leads to a climax that is at least partially unsatisfying.
But these really are quibbles. This is a very good book.
4.5 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Smith sent me an advance, review copy of Making Peace