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Marque and Reprisal
Elizabeth Moon
Del Rey, 324 pages

Marque and Reprisal
Elizabeth Moon
Elizabeth Moon grew up in south Texas, 250 miles south of San Antonio and eight miles from the Mexican border. She attended Rice University and joined the US Marines in 1968. With a second degree in biology, she entertained thoughts about going to med school after her husband, but circumstances intervened.

Elizabeth Moon Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Trading in Danger
SF Site Review: Speed of Dark
SF Site Review: Once A Hero
SF Site Review: Rules of Engagement
SF Site Review: Remnant Population

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

I first became aware of Elizabeth Moon when her Deeds of Paksenarrion was published. At the time, this was a new sort of subgenre of fantasy, a military fantasy, not from the point of view of kings but from the grunt's-eye view, down in the mud and blood. This was no military porn-tough, wise-cracking, indestructible heroes blowing away ugly hordes who seem to exist just to be targets, but a sympathetic examination of the many ways that lead ordinary people to take up the sword -- and what sort of life that really leads to.

I haven't read all her succeeding books. At one point she switched to science fiction, still largely from the military viewpoint; I read a few, and some worked for me, some didn't. I was riveted by her award-winning The Speed of Dark, which was exquisitely written, an unsentimental but compassionate, exciting examination of austism within a nifty SFnal setting.

So when Del Rey sent me this book to review, I picked it up with enthusiasm. The main protagonist is Kylara Vatta, who is brooding over her past as the book opens; she'd recently been kicked out of her home planet's military academy through no fault of her own, but had to make a meaningful life for herself anyway. So she's following the family tradition of trading.

Very swiftly she survives an assassination attempt, then another, discovers her family has been attacked, and then is mysteriously sent a letter of marque -- which she had never asked for. Fairly early on I realized that this book, though it stands alone, was a sequel to at least one other book: though Moon slides in back story in a way that could serve as a model for new writers, some of the events that get dismissed with a line or two had so much dramatic potential I finally figured out that they'd already been narrated elsewhere.

Just so this book seems to be leading to another, in a longish story arc about Ky, who once again must redesign her life path. This time it's to find those who started this war against her family, to rescue whoever is left alive of that family, to restart the Vatta trade-and to get revenge.

Her cousin Stella, who also had a mistake in her past, shows up, plus a fourteen-year old cousin named Toby. And Stella's former boyfriend, a stylish, secretive man named Rafe who seems to have as many last names as he does fictional stories about his origins. Rafe turns out to be far too good with weapons and illegal communications to be quite trustworthy, but beggars cannot be choosers, and Ky takes him on as a partner-despite ongoing tension. Both political, and sexual.

There is a rip-snorting action climax that resolves some things and sets up others for the continuation of the story. Meanwhile, Marque and Reprisal is a very fast read. Moon is so very good on details, whether weaponry or ships or just getting a meal organized in the middle of danger. Her characters are appealing, interesting, and though the focus of the story is decidedly military, there is an underlying humanity to her work that carries from the Paksenarrion tales, making them particularly appealing. Moon never argues for the "fun" of war. She shows people who take charge when civilization's fragile shell cracks -- and is unstintingly honest about the consequences, both physical and emotional.

Copyright © 2004 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at

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