Review by Ian Sales
Ebriel Serique is a Parisian flautist and an unlikely heroine. Happily married, affluent, privileged and admired for her musical talent, she’s almost a model citizen. That is, until her husband, daughter and father-in-law are murdered by pirates while travelling on the family yacht to Menorca. According to Security Corps commander General George Glass, the yacht had sailed through the Line of Partition, was carrying illegal medicines to neutral countries, and so no investigation is planned. Ebriel is grief-stricken, but also angry at Glass. Especially since she knows the yacht did not cross the Line as its intended voyage took it nowhere near it. There is something very fishy about the incident, and Glass is likely responsible…
In the late twenty-first century of The Maquisarde, an economic crash brought on by the end of oil has seen the world split into three main power blocs: the International Cooperative Alliance, or InCo, comprising North America, much of Europe, and Japan and the Koreas; Oceania; and the neutral polities. China, India and the Middle East did not survive the Crash. While all seems prosperous and happy within the InCo territory, an aggressive border policy is in effect in to prevent those outside from entering. In fact, InCo, under its de facto ruler Glass, seems to actively prosecute a policy of maintaining its own prosperity at the expense of those outside the Line of Partition.
Ebriel travels to Geneva and attempts to see Glass. She is denied, and so pours out the ashes of her loved ones in front of the Security Corps headquarters. She is promptly arrested and taken off to a “rest home”, where she is kept drugged and docile… Until she is rescued by a member of an underground network called the Chain. Comprised chiefly of women, the Chain rescues children from around the world, educates them and instills them with purpose, and then returns them to their origins as adults to assist in improving life for those around them. The Chain are secretive because their objectives conflict with those of InCo’s Security Corps. They are run from Starhold, a failed hotel in Low Earth Orbit, by Ethan Fleck, a cross between Bill Gates and Stephen Hawking. (Fleckcells provide the energy the world uses now that the oil has gone.)
The Chain trains up Ebriel, but she goes AWOL and attempts to assassinate Glass. However, at the last she cannot bring herself to pull the trigger, and in doing so realises that revenge is not the answer. The Maquisarde then follows the penance she pays and her burgeoning romance with James Walking Bull, an honourable officer in the Security Corps.
The Maquisarde is science fiction sprinkled liberally with romance dust. The prose throughout is often somewhat overwrought, especially when it comes to Ebriel’s emotional state. But there are also things to like in the novel. The Chain, an underground of fighting women which rescues and educates children is a neat idea. Showing the oppression which underpins a prosperous society also works well. The world-building is good, and there is a nicely diverse cast. (Though Ebriel’s French does seem a little bit like schoolgirl French throughout.)
But, in the end, The Maquisarde doesn’t say enough to justify the time spent reading it. The slow fall into romance, though all too obvious from about the halfway point, feels like an abdication of purpose. Ebriel becomes more important than the world – her happiness trumps everyone else’s. True, the wrongness which defines her world – specifically General Glass and his Security Corps – is righted, but it feels almost incidental to the consumption of Ebriel’s relationship with James Walking Bull. The Maquisarde is an entertaining novel, and Marley has a light, pleasant touch with her prose; but the book feels like it ought to mean more than it actually does, that it deserves a more world-changing dénouement than it actually possesses.