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Arabella of Mars (The Adventures of Arabella Ashby) Mass Market Paperback – May 30, 2017
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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
About the Author
David D. Levine is the author of novel Arabella of Mars (Tor 2016) and over fifty science fiction and fantasy stories. His story "Tk'Tk'Tk"won the Hugo Award in 2006, and he has been shortlisted for awards including the Hugo, Nebula, Campbell, and Sturgeon. His stories have appeared in Asimov's, Analog, F&SF, numerous Year's Best anthologies, and his award-winning collection Space Magic. He lives in a hundred-year-old bungalow in Portland, Oregon.
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The order of description I gave is no accident. Arabella of Mars has more in common with Horatio Hornblower novels and Treasure Island than Persuasion or anything Georgette Heyer. What sucked me in were the excellently researched portraits of "naval" life, allowing me to learn alongside Arabella about the imaginative addition of airships and hot air balloon sailing between planets. The book is fantasy, it requires suspension of disbelief, but the part of the tale that touches on the impossible is easy to accept as young "Ashby" learns his trade and becomes a member of the crew.
But as a lover of romances, it is the relationships Arabella has with her shipmates, her captain, and her Martian caretaker that give the book a rousing finish.
[SPOILERS BELOW - READ ON AT YOUR PERIL!]
I gave the novel only four stars for two reasons: The main one was that the prologue, which gave me a glimpse into Arabella's formative past, did not instill within me a strong affinity for the characters that explicitly motivate and drive the story. Arabella's father does not fight for her, console her, or evidence the intelligence and affinity that Arabella ascribes to their relationship. That his loss affects poor Arabella deeply didn't resonate with me.
Similarly, the brief interactions I saw between the heroine and her soft-hearted, beloved brother were so mild that I found myself rolling my eyes when Arabella waxed on about his merits. Her desperate adventure with the sole intent of saving him from a known threat fell hollow and made the first few chapters of the book hard for me to get into.
Once I was in, however, there were plenty of extremely well-written trials, fights, and perilous privateers to hold my interest and deepen my sympathy with Arabella. The pace and the plot of the second act were incredibly enjoyable.
The last part of the book, after Arabella is discovered to be a girl, was again, more difficult for me to enjoy. Her treatment by the captain and crew was so abrupt that I fell out of the story for awhile, tempted to skim. Similarly, Arabella's strangely generous nature with the villain rankled, though it was *so very Regency.* In that perhaps Levine accomplished what he set out to do perfectly.
The surprises and emotional resolutions in the last section aptly guided the book into the final resolution, underscoring themes about colonialism, family, culture, and above all else, honorable personal behavior in the face of anger and difficult circumstances.
I recommend this book to everyone interested in any of the genres above, whether romance is your thing, alternate history, pure adventure, or steampunk-ish fantasy. It is fun and has lots for a diverse array of readers to love.
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)
Most recent customer reviews
I can't wait to read the rest of the series.