Genre: Science Fiction, Steampunk
Publisher: Tor on July 12, 2016
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.
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!