#RRSciFiMonth: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine (Adventures of Arabella Ashby #1)

Genre: Science Fiction, Steampunk

Publisher: Tor on July 12, 2016

Source: Library

Rating StarRating StarRating Star

Ever since Newton witnessed a bubble rising from his bathtub, mankind has sought the stars.

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2016, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by Rinn Reads and Over the Effing Rainbow. Follow along on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or with the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

If ever there were a sci-fi book that I’m basically guaranteed to like, that book would be David D. Levine’s steampunk adventure ARABELLA OF MARS. It’s basically a Regency drama turned space adventure, populated with automata and airships. What’s not to love, right?

By the year 1812, humanity has already been capable of space travel for centuries. Using airships designed after sea-faring vessels, humankind has extended their reach out into the galaxy and colonized Mars. Martian born and bred, the young Lady Arabella Ashby may have English blood, but she’s never so much as set foot on earth’s soil. But after one too many scrapes, Arabella’s mother packs up the women in family and leaves the plantation for ye olde England in hope that Arabella will become a respectable lady under the proper (read: English) tutelage.

Thankfully, there’s not a chance in hell of that plan succeeding, because otherwise there wouldn’t be much of a plot. Strong, independent, and resourceful, Arabella is not content to be made over. So when she learns that her beloved brother Michael, who recently inherited the family’s land on Mars, is in mortal peril from her scheming cousin Mr. Simon Ashby, Arabella takes it upon herself to stop him. Even if that means stowing aboard an airship and racing him to Mars herself.

Arabella is an absolutely delightful protagonist, from her unladylike demeanour to her willingness to go to extremes for love of her family. Very few people would agree to disguise themselves as a boy, join an airship crew, and endure backbreaking labour the way that Arabella does. Sure, she’s a bit of a special snowflake what with her prodigious talent for repairing and working with automata, but the story is so fun that this aspect of her personality didn’t bother me too much.

Where the novel took a bit of a turn was when Arabella’s ship actually arrived back on Mars. As ironic as it is, I found that the “Araballa on Mars” scenes were the weakest in the entire book. While I loved learning about native Martian culture and also really appreciated the examination of colonial relations between the humans and the Martians, the events after Arabella arrives back home were just too coincidental and rushed to be truly enjoyable. A lot of the book’s charm for me came from Arabella’s time on board the ship and her relationship with the crew, so when the focus shifted away from that I found myself losing interest in the story a bit. 

I was also quite disappointed with the way the romantic subplot played out in ARABELLA OF MARS. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it makes a lot of sense for a character as fiercely independent as Arabella to consent to – and even suggest – a marriage of convenience, even if it is to someone she loves. Girl gets engaged for all the wrong reasons, in my opinion.

My gripes aside, I’m glad to have included at least one steampunk adventure in my TBR for Sci-Fi Month. Gotta give a shout out to the one sib-genre of sci-fi that I read with any regularity!

 What’s your favourite steampunk story? Have you read ARABELLA OF MARS yet? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I have to admit this book just never tempted me enough. When I first glanced at the cover it felt very “young” to me, so I gave it a pass. But I have had that same experience with other books, where the journey was much more interesting than getting to the destination.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean! I actually thought this was YA when I first picked it up, haha. That was definitely the case here…but at least it was a fun journey!

  • They sure got to Mars fast

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    Oh no! I have been looking forward to reading this one. I probably still will at some point, fingers crossed it works a bit better for me. Maybe going in with lowered expectations will help./

    • I hadn’t heard too much about this one before diving into it, so maybe you’ll have a better experience with it now that you know what to expect. And if not, well, at least there’s sailing involved?

  • I enjoyed this more than you did, but expectations definitely had to do a lot with it. Maybe it was the cover or the blurb, but I expected something a lot heavier, with denser writing and steampunk with hard sci fi elements. So I was pretty surprised when it was actually the complete opposite! I thought it would be a slow read, but it ended up being so much fun, I probably devoured it in a little more than a day 🙂

    • Ah yeah, that makes sense! I think I was expecting something more along the lines of a Gail Carriger novel which is a pretty high bar to reach in terms of cleverness and fun.

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    This would seem like the classic example about the journey being more important than the destination… However, I’ve heard about this book and been intrigued by the story, so I will certainly try it out sooner or later: knowing beforehand there are some problems might help me overcome any possible disappointment…
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • No problem, Maddalena! Despite my gripes about this one, there’s something very charming about a book featuring a plucky young heroine disguised as a boy on board a ship. I’m in the mood to read books set aboard sailing ships after reading this one!

  • Regency drama on space 😀 omg! I wouldn’t have imagined it even. And Steampunk. Sounds intense.
    Do you read scifi normally, or just for the scifi month?
    Btw, I’m going to use the chance to ask – did you receive a notification about the reply to your comment on my blog? I’m asking cause I had some technical issues and I’m trying to work them out -.-

    • Right?! How awesome is that? Normally I just read fantasy (with a few sci-fi graphic novels thrown in), but after having such a great time with sci-fi month I may need to change that!

      I just checked and yes, I did! Seems like things are working. ????

      • Thanks for checking 🙂

        And yes! Scifi is so much fun to read. You just have to know what kinds to pick, because there are quite a few sub-genres of scifi. If you ever want any recs, I do read quite a lot of scifi, so just ask 🙂 I read scifi outside of scifimonth too xD which I just realized I could make a last-minute post to. Too bad I found out about it so late.
        By the way, I think there is a very thin line between scifi and fantasy, so a lot of fantasy lovers could easily start reading scifi as well. With some books, I am not even sure where to draw the line. Scifi is partly fantasy too. Only more narrowly defined.

  • Greg Hill

    The airship journey does sound fun, and steampunk can be hit or miss for me but it’s good to know about the Mars part. I was curious about this one after having seen the cover, since I like airship stories. I may read this one and will just keep that in mind about the journey being worth the destination, as someone else said. Nice review!

    • Thanks Greg! Yeah, I think this book will be more fun for people with slightly lowered expectations (as bad as that sounds…haha). Airship stories are so much fun, I definitely need to make time to read more of them!

  • Her reasoning for getting married seems pretty absurd, I have to agree. I was confused why you had it rated at three stars but seemed to enjoy it so much until the end, but the world sounds so interesting! Steampunk space travel in the 1800’s? Awesome.
    I need to build up my steampunk read pile, but Stormdancer was a great book!

    • Gah, I know! So annoying for an independent heroine to abandon her principles like that! I was giving her major side-eye when that happened, LOL.

      Steampunk is so much fun! I really liked Stormdancer too, but I still haven’t read its sequels (even though I own them). Have you, Katelynn? If not, we should totally do a buddy read some time!

  • I’d not heard of this book! Arabella sounds awesome, and who doesn’t love a good air-based setting? Well, then again, Magonia wasn’t that great… but still. I’m glad you enjoyed this book, Danya. =)

    Wonderful review!

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • Oh no, you didn’t like Magonia? I’ve had my eye on that one for ages, mostly because of the beautiful cover. Well, that and the fact that I love me some magical realism and it definitely gives me those vibes.

      Thanks, Alyssa! ????

  • I love steampunk as an idea but I’ve not really read a book that lived up to the potential of the genre yet. This one sounds fun though, which is something (some of them are so not fun at all!).

    • Have you read any of Gail Carriger’s books, Lorraine? I think she’s the cream of the crop for steampunk: her books are creative, insanely clever, and she doesn’t take herself too seriously. I recommend Soulless!

      • I’ve read Soulless actually! I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it, and I haven’t continued on with the series. I might give it another shot though 🙂

  • I’ve had my eye on this for a while, and I’m going to have to get my hands on a copy. I often end up very meh about steampunk settings, but feisty young ladies are definitely the way to my heart 😉

    • Ha! I’m exactly the same way. Give me a feisty heroine and I’m intrigued, but give me one who disguises herself as a boy for the sake of adventure and I’m sold. ????

  • I haven’t read much steampunk, it’s a genre I really like the idea of and then never get around to reading which is weird. I do have this book on my radar, though and your review has successfully interested me some more. Sure, this book sounds like it has flaws (basically the end of the book) but I love strong willed characters who go to extremes and aren’t afraid of some work to get where they want and that definitely sounds like Arabella. I mean, girl dresses as a boy and joins the crew on a ship and has to work hard! I couldn’t do that. I complain about sitting at a desk for 8 hours a day I would not survive manual labour. I think I will have to give this book a chance and scout my library for it. I have to scout my library for a lot of books since I’ve discovered blogging.

    • I know exactly what you mean, because that’s how I feel about sci-fi! Remind me again Becky: have you read Soulless yet? Because is not, you’d adore it. A funny, snarky steampunk romance. What’s not to love???

      LOL same! I alternate between standing and sitting at work, but even then I still have an inner monologue about how much I hate being on my feet. People who work in manual labour jobs are waaaay tougher than I am!

      I’m so happy that you’re a dedicated library convert now! It really is the only way to keep the book budget under control, hahaha.

  • I have had my eye covetously on this one because the premise sounds amazing. Only space travlel could make my enjoyment of regency era romances richer, lol. I’m glad you thought it did a pretty all right job living up to that premise though it’s a bummer the romance and scenes on Mars weren’t all they should be….kinda seems like getting those right would be pretty key. Regardless I still plan on reading this baby sometime soon!

    • Regency romances blended with any genre fiction will catch my eye every time, so I completely understand! Hahaha.

      My hope is that the romance develops more in book two, and that there’s more time spent actually…you know, in space. Fingers crossed!

  • The premise of this wounds so amazing, I’m sorry it didn’t turn out as well, Another book you put on my radar!! Thanks for that! Tori @ In Tori Lex

    • Yeah, it was a bit of a bummer that I didn’t end up loving this one as much as I thought I would. But it was still a fun read! ????