Published: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 352 (Hardcover)
My Rating: 4.5/5.0
Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars. When William III of England commissioned Capt. William Kidd to command the first expedition to Mars in the late 1600s, they proved that space travel was both possible and profitable.
Now, one century later, a plantation in the flourishing British colony on Mars is home to Arabella Ashby. A tomboy who shares her father’s deft hand with complex automatons. Being raised on the Martian frontier by her Martian nanny, Arabella is more a wild child than a proper young lady. Something her mother plans to remedy with a move to an exotic world Arabella has never seen: London, England.
Arabella soon finds herself trying to navigate an alien world until a dramatic change in her family’s circumstances forces her to defy all conventions in order to return to Mars in order to save both her brother and the plantation. To do this, Arabella must pass as a boy on the Diana, a ship serving the Mars Trading Company with a mysterious Indian captain who is intrigued by her knack with automatons. Arabella must weather the naval war between Britain and France, learning how to sail, and a mutinous crew if she hopes to save her brother from certain death.
Ever since seeing a synopsis of Arabella of Mars several months ago, I’ve been interested in reading it and I was lucky enough to receive a finished copy from Tor. The title and cover art alone would have been enough to spark my curiosity, but knowing that it was a science fiction novel set in the early 1800’s where they had SPACE TRAVEL was like icing on the cake. I have a fondness for 1800’s era sci-fi and fantasy because I find it to be ridiculously romantic, despite the fact that I actually don’t like most books written in that time period.
Arabella of Mars is the story of Arabella Ashby, a girl who if forced to move from her beloved Mars back to England with her younger sisters at the behest of her mother, who wants her to be a proper English lady. A series of terrible events leads her on a journey back to Mars to save her brother from a relative’s intent to malevolently obtain the family’s fortune. Arabella disguises herself as Arthur Ashby and joins the crew of the airship Diana, captained by Prakash Singh. During the exciting and somewhat lengthy course of the journey, Arabella proves herself to be exceedingly clever, resourceful, and utterly unsuited to being a proper English lady.
This is one of those stories that seem to defy all expectations, though to be honest, I didn’t have any specific expectations. I just wanted a fun, fresh story and that’s exactly what I got. What I wasn’t expecting was to love it so much! I read this book in a single sitting, though I had expected it to take me several days. David D. Levine has proved to be an excellent an engaging writer and I look forward to the next installment in The Adventures of Arabella Ashby. The conclusion of this first book was certainly a surprise to me and I think these next adventures will be grand indeed.
Three paragraphs and I’ve not even discussed how cool the worldbuilding has been! Levine has written a society where space travel is possible and commonly practiced 150 years before humankind ever set foot on the moon. This coupled with the novel idea that there is interplanetary weather as well as atmosphere makes things very interesting. The planet Mars is also inhabited by Martians – intelligent life forms that vaguely resemble crab-like humans and have a warrior caste that is predominately female. Mars is also perfectly inhabitable for humans, who’ve set up plantations and businesses there. All of these features make Arabella of Mars totally unique and delightful!
In conclusion, I think this is a great book and I strongly recommend it, especially for those who’ve enjoyed Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons and fans of YA science fiction. Arabella of Mars is a lovely book and I can’t wait to find a spot for it on my shelves!