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Arabella of Mars (The Adventures of Arabella Ashby) Hardcover – July 12, 2016
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“Hugo award winning author David D. Levine's first full length novel, Arabella of Mars, is the delicious love child of Jane Austen, Patrick O'Brian, and Jules Verne! Sent back to England from her family's estate on Mars, Arabella despises the life of a staid young Regency lady. Then a shocking threat to her family on Mars forces her to undertake a desperate, impossible journey back to the colony--a journey that will change her forever. Arabella Ashby is a great character, and wonderful worldbuilding, tight plotting, and a breakneck pace make Arabella of Mars a real page turner! I look forward to the next book in the series.” ―New York Times bestselling author Mary Jo Putney, author of Not Always a Saint and Once a Soldier
“This rollicking interplanetary adventure captured my heart. Who could resist a world in which coal-powered ships sail to Mars, borne aloft by balloons of Venusian silk, doing battle en route with French privateers? To protect family and fortune, Arabella Ashby masquerades as a boy and takes a berth as a cabin boy on a fascinating voyage. There’s a mysterious captain, an intriguing automaton, pirates, Martians, a bit of romance, and so much more. I’m grateful Levine has promised a sequel. Arabella Ashby proves herself to be a clever and capable heroine, and I’m looking forward to her next adventure.” ―Nebula, World Fantasy, and Philip K. Dick Award-winning author Pat Murphy
“David Levine has reached back past the Martian romances of Percival Lowell to an even earlier moment, creating a precursor to steampunk that I suppose we should call sailpunk. It’s a delightful addition to the Matter of Mars, bridging the long gap between Kepler and Burroughs with a Regency entry, filled with all the drama of the Napoleonic wars, now here complicated by a drastic Martian intervention, and animated most of all by Arabella, a young woman filled with curiosity and courage. It’s a very clever and entertaining start to a memorable saga.” ―Kim Stanley Robinson, author of the Nebula-winning and Hugo-winning Mars trilogy
“Regency space opera in its best form! An intrepid, intelligent heroine, wonderful characters, and a breathtaking conflict. Who could ask for more?” ―Patricia Rice, author of Saturn's Daughter series
“If Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Patrick O’Brien had sat down together to compose a tale to amuse Jane Austen, the result might be Arabella of Mars. So. Much. Fun!” ―Madeleine Robins, author of The Stone War, a NYT Notable Book, and the Sarah Tolerance Regency mystery series
“David Levine’s entertaining debut is a delightfully detailed airship adventure, complete with romance, pirates, Martians, automata, and a charming Jules Vernian imagining of the alternate-world science involved in sailing a ship straight through our solar system.” ―Tina Connolly, author of the Ironskin Trilogy and Seriously Wicked
“Interplanetary pirates! Imperiled inheritances! Disguises! Rebellion! Romance! Arabella of Mars is a blast―a smart, resourceful heroine, a non-stop adventure packed with thrills, charm and surprises, and a fascinating world I hope to see a lot more of. A thoroughly engaging debut.” ―Kurt Busiek
“Shades of Jules Verne! Levine delights with genre-bending thrills in this Regency whizzbang.” ―Ellen Klages
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The seagoing manages to take place in space, on a journey from Earth to Mars, thanks to the interesting if thoroughly improbable notion that an “atmosphere” of sorts, complete with winds and weather, exists in outer space; the characters are weightless for much of the story, yet they have no trouble breathing, and they constantly have to manipulate ropes and sails and other oceanic hardware in order to survive.
If you can manage to swallow that basic idea, though (and it does take a BIG gulp), the story is a lot of fun. Arabella, the dauntless heroine, is everything that a dauntless heroine should be, and her adventures as cabin boy “Arthur” aboard the fast company ship Diana are delightfully exciting. In the later part of the book, too, she puts her knowledge of Mars, where she was born and raised, and its native people (to whom she paid far more attention than most English settlers on the planet) to good use in foiling a Dastardly Plot.
If there is such a thing as a science fiction “beach book,” this would be it. I’m glad to see that a sequel will be coming soon.
Arabella, our protagonist, is well drawn, starting as a young girl happy to be able to beat her brother, to a mature woman capable of making difficult decisions even when the consequences are not totally to her liking. The odd universe she inhabits is drawn in considerable detail, especially the airship she travels on from Earth to Mars. Those who like those old sailing adventure stories will certainly find much that is both familiar and engaging. The England of the day is straight out of the 19th century, with all that implies about the acceptable roles for women, and how Arabella works her way around these will make modern day feminists fairly happy, although they may not be too happy with her final decision about how to solve her problems.
I did have one quibble, finding it a fair stretch to believe that Arabella could pass herself off as a man for an extended period of time in the close confines of a wooden sailing ship. And other than Arabella and the ship's captain, characterization is pretty thin. But overall, this is an excellent read, especially as a first novel by Mr. Levine. I will certainly be looking for more from him.
---Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
In many ways the story is familiar. A girl assumes a boy's identity and enters a man's world in a cross-dressing coming of age story. The complications that ensue from Arabella's choices are finely spun and women into smooth cloth, and this reviewer highly recommends potential readers to go spend a few hours hurting through the rarefied atmosphere between Earth and Mars. You'l find it worth your while.
Thematically, Arabella of Mars is having too much fun with itself to offer many surprises. If you ask yourself, "What are the several things that must happen in a girl-disguises-herself-as-a-boy story?" its a pretty fair bet that your expectations will be met. It's also a fair bet that you won't mind being right, because the story is fun anyway.
As entertaining as the yarn is, this reviewer was slightly put off by the ending which finds Arabella with a victory given to her that has much the same shape as the destiny she escaped from, as if she ends up in the right place, with the right person but walking in the wrong direction.
That small criticism aside. Arabella of Mars should be your next summer read.
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I can't wait to read the rest of the series.