Well, we come now to book three in the I Am Margaret series, and I have to say, I’m starting to fall off the bandwagon.
I know, and I’m sorry to have to say it, but there it is. Once again, the story in Liberation is a good one. Unfortunately, my objections are a little deeper than how the plot goes. I will try not to give too many spoilers here (because, in spite of my objections, it’s still worth reading), but I will promise an in-depth analysis of the whole series after book four is released in November.
Until then, here’s what I think.
Liberation begins with our heroes hiding out in the Mediterranean, well away from the reach of the EuroGov. The question is: now what?
They decide to free as many reAssignees from the camps as they can, hence the title of the book. It’s an exciting story, with rescues and good characters. Bane is starting to become a real leader, and Margaret is her usual, good self. She spends an awful lot of time scared and crying in this book, but to be fair, she does have a lot to be scared and crying about.
Fortunately, Bane and Margaret (they need a celebrity name . . . maybe Bargo — Bane and Margo? Nah, we’ll leave that alone) do FINALLY get married!
That deserves some commentary, because some of you might be wondering how a good Catholic author is going to treat that issue, especially from the point of view of a first-person narrator. There is nothing too descriptive, nothing inappropriate. In fact, I have to applaud the author by giving us a little taste of the goodness, holiness, and beauty of the marriage act, rather than taking a more Puritan stand that “all sex is bad and nobody talk about it.” No descriptions are needed, but addressing the Catholic stance that yes, between two married people, that act is good, beautiful, and holy, is a great way to counter the cultural crap we have these days. No, we’re not obsessed. We’re not going to give you a blow-by-blow. We’re going to treat it with respect. In the words of one of my favorite authors, Victor Hugo:
“Here we pause. On the threshold of wedding nights stands a smiling angel with his finger on his lips.”
Well done by the author here.
The story goes on a bit of a different track than you might think from the title. Yes, they are liberating people. Yes, that’s a good thing. But does this mean that we’re forming up an armed resistance?
Here is where the author and I part ways in our opinions. I’ll try not to give too much away, because I still recommend that you read it, but the idea that you can be both a fighter and a pacifist does not make sense. The Underground, as we have seen, are thorough pacifists. Now, they’re trying to come up with a way to free the innocent victims from a camp at which there are armed guards with orders to shoot to kill. What do we do?
I would have said: well, the Catechism tells us that we have the right to use deadly force in defense of ourselves and the innocent. I think saving a bunch of innocents from being carved up to use for spare body parts certainly qualifies.
Not here. The characters go out of their way to make absolutely sure that no one is killed during the course of their liberations. The author manages to make the reasoning behind that decision plot-relevant . . . but only just barely. It seemed more contrived than anything else I’ve read in the books so far.
I will elaborate more in the promised in-depth analysis, but for now, I will leave it at this: the story is still a good one, but it proceeds on shaky ground in places. It is internally consistent. Nothing in Liberation contradicts something that was previously established in the other two books; unfortunately, it confirms something that was hinted at, and passed over by me as just the opinions of the main characters. Eighteen-year-olds don’t always have all the information, or the life experience, to make life-and-death decisions. I can accept that. But when all the adults presented to the reader — including the Pope and all his retainers and assistants — act the same way as the eighteen-year-olds, there’s something wrong with the worldbuilding.
In this case, that something appears to be a deep misunderstanding of Church teaching, and that is what I object to.
The world in which the Swiss Guard — truly the deadliest soldiers in all of Europe — are actually pacifists, doesn’t make sense. A world in which the Pope objects to people stealing weapons — non-lethal ones, at that — from their corrupt and tyrannical government, and then uses a pitiful rationalization in order to justify it, is a world that doesn’t make sense.
2263: The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. “The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.“
2264: Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:
If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.
2265: Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.
The only thing that saves the plot from being utterly absurd is the existence of the non-lethal weapons, the nonLees. In that case, the characters stand on the above paragraph: “if a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful.” With these weapons, killing the guards at the death camps is not necessary, and therefore unlawful, because it would be using more force than is necessary. Again, they’re just barely right.
Again, the story is readable. I’m not telling anyone to drop the series like a hot rock and run the other way. But this halfway attitude between resisting the evil government and their practices, and keeping the faith and not harming anyone, is not something that we can emulate. I realize that this is a story, and not always comparable to real life, and that it is a dystopian novel, and therefore is allowed a little more license to make things make sense.
But it sets a bad precedent, and teaches a bad lesson to the readers, in my opinion. Paragraph 2265 tells us that “legitimate defense” is “not only a right, but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.” Margaret and Bane have taken that responsibility on themselves, of their own free will. They can’t act by halves. “The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm.” Only in this fictional story does NOT killing the guards actually work.
The fourth wall might have been cracked in books one and two (and I mentioned a few points in my other reviews), but it takes a severe beating in book three. I’m more than willing to read book four when it comes out, to see how things end for our heroes, who are definitely not out of the woods yet, but I’m more than a little disappointed in the way the Church has been presented to the world in this story.
Liberation gets three out of five stars. The fourth review will have to wait until next month, when Bane’s Eyes is released. I’ll certainly read it, and give you both a review, and a full analysis then.
Follow the squirrel minion to get to Lori’s website, Little Squirrel Books.