Arabella of Mars
(The Adventures of Arabella Ashby, Book 1)
David D. Levine
DESCRIPTION: Since Captain William Kidd piloted the first sailing vessel to Mars in the late 1600's, the solar system has opened up to trade and colonization. Ships ply the spaceways on solar winds as wealthy Europeans establish colonies on distant planets. Thus it is that Arabella Ashby, though a human of English parentage, was born and raised on the family's Martian lumber plantation, learning of her race's homeworld through dry books while experiencing Mars under the tutelage of her native nanny and tutor, Khema... until her homesick mother, fed up with her "unladylike" ways, drags her and her sisters back to England. Her father, who shared her love of clockwork automatons, stays behind to teach her brother the family business.
Arabella would never see her father alive again.
Miserable on Earth and made moreso with her beloved father's death, Arabella finds herself shunted off to her cousin Simon's home - a relative who always resented how her
family, not his, benefited from the entailed Ashby estate. When Simon finally snaps, determined to finish off Arabella's brother (the only remaining male heir standing
between him and the family fortune), the seventeen-year-old girl rushes off to stop him... and ends up plunging headlong into an interplanetary adventure.
REVIEW: I purchased this on impulse, drawn by a cover that promised a Jules Verne-flavored, old-school adventure yarn in a fanciful interplanetary Regency era. That's almost exactly what the book turned out to be. Levine creates a spacefaring world that wouldn't be out of place in the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, with Venusian jungles and a canal-riddled Mars, only with (thankfully) updated attitudes on gender, race, and colonialism, though the characters themselves are still, by and large, firmly residents of their (alternate-history) era. (I also suspect an influence from the classic Doctor Who series, which featured a similar concept... a couple of incidental references to a man with a "long knitted scarf" point strongly in that direction.) Arabella makes for a plucky, clever heroine, somewhat impulsive but always striving her best. Her skill with Martian culture and automatons - lifelike clockwork "robots" based on actual creations of the 1800's, whose abilities and intricacies astound even today - carry her far, and while she does (as one might predict) have to hide her gender for a good portion of the tale as she works her way back home aboard a Martian trading ship, she ultimately must learn to stand on her own two feet without deception. Other characters aren't necessarily deep, particularly the bad guys, but this is really more of an adventure story reveling in its wondrous retro concept. The plot moves fast, sucking me into a full day's reading binge, and while occasionally predictable, it was always entertaining. Some elements of the ending felt rushed and a little weaker than they might have been, but I rather enjoyed it, and look forward to Arabella's future adventures.
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