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The Maquisarde, Louise Marley, Ace, 2002, 386 pp.

The Maquisarde is Louise Marley’s latest book, and it has many of the Marley trademarks: a main character who loves music, an intense engagement with issues of social justice, and an exciting story. Marley also balances her exposition well: any explanations of milieu come in the context of character, never on their own. Marley also creates books very different from one another; many authors fall into the trap of reiterating ideas and settings, and while Marley's books are certainly identifiable as her work, they differ in significant ways. The Terrorists of Irustan was an intense study of what it might be like for women in the Taliban-era Afghanistan, set on the fictional planet of Irustan instead. The Glass Harmonica, her previous book, was partly a historical novel set in London in the time of Benjamin Franklin, partly about a musician from Seattle in the near future. The Maquisarde is about late 21st century social unrest and resistance, and it’s just as fresh and interesting as Marley’s previous two books.

The Maquisarde is set late in the 21st century. A woman named Ebriel Serique, a highly successful flautist, lives in Paris with her husband and daughter. As the book begins, the rest of her family is on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea and they get murdered under some mysterious circumstances. The military government of InCo (International Cooperative Alliance) denies all responsibility, blaming terrorists from across the Line. It seems that by the time of the late 21st century, global stock markets will have collapsed, petroleum reserves will be depleted, the Middle East and Pakistan/India will be self-immolated by nuclear and bio-weapon wars, and what's left of the rich countries will have drawn a cordon around themselves. But InCo's denial of all responsibility for the Serique deaths puts Ebriel over the edge, and she is soon drawn into the worldwide resistance, the Maquisarde of the title, to try to create more justice in the world. A second character, named James Bull who hails from Montana, is also drawn into the story, from his point of view of an InCo soldier who begins to have doubts about the regime.

Marley’s book has it both ways, by making some valid speculations about future societal developments at the same time as making compelling comments about the way we live now. What will happen to the Western way of life when oil runs out? Optimists see that as a challenge to our technical capabilities, and indeed The Maquisarde features the nascent struggles of a solar cell economy. Marley doesn’t spare us either the good or the bad, so despite the alarmist scenario, she doesn’t fall into either camp on the issue. Other sociological extrapolations in The Maquisarde also ring true, but where the book is most pertinent, like the best science fiction, is in present day human life. Are there ways that rich countries currently draw cordons around their privilege? Of course! That goes without saying, but the beauty of a book like Marley’s is the way it strips away assumptions and follows trends to their logical conclusion. Reasons for not helping the less well off are hedged thick with justifications and short-term interests and media spin. But spin can only last so long in the face of reality, no matter the avalanche of money intended to aid the cover-up. Marley’s book exaggerates the reality in order to help the point penetrate cultural inertia; in that sense, the book, like science fiction sometimes seems to do in this context, is taking the easy way out. But far from being the refuge of those who can only understand issues in their starkest terms, science fiction books like The Maquisarde have the exact opposite effect: the world of The Maquisarde is not a one-to-one match with our own, and any comparisons have be parsed through fairly sophisticated mental algorithms. And Marley makes some compelling arguments in this book, ones that the reader has to engage.

The Maquisarde also features credible and interesting descriptions of many real-world settings all around the globe, from Paris to Egypt to the wilderness area of China known as the Qaidam Basin to the coastlines of Taiwan and the Philippines. Not many science fiction books manage to show us something about our own world in this way; The Maquisarde does so at the same time as it gives us some intriguing speculation about the future.

All of the Ace editions of Louise Marley’s books have been handsome productions. The Glass Harmonica in particular had cover art that captured the tone of the book perfectly. The cover art for The Maquisarde by Chris Cocozza makes the correct choice of portraying Ebriel front and centre, even while not quite matching up to my mind’s eye version of Ebriel. That said, Ebriel’s demeanour shows through clearly; Marley’s story about Ebriel lives up to the determination and sensitivity shown on her face on the cover.

Marley's book pays close attention to issues of social justice, human relationships, and policies of non-interference, all in the context of an exciting story. Highly recommended.

First posted; May 9, 2003; Last modified: March 30, 2004

Copyright © 2003-2004 by James Schellenberg (

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