The Austin Chronicle

Getaways Far, Far Away

Summer reading recommendations that will take you out of this world

Reviewed by Adrienne Martini, June 17, 2016, Arts

Arabella's Mars isn't our Mars. Where ours is dusty, dry, and dead, hers is full of trees and adventure! And space pirates! And British plantation owners exploiting native labor to make a profit! And stifling gender roles! To say nothing about a fear of nonwhite people!

For now, let's focus less on the unsettling stuff and more on the space pirates. Because the space pirates, like fezzes, are pretty cool.

Set in a very different 1812, one in which there is an atmosphere between the red planet and ours, modified tall ships are the engines of the British Empire. The Mars-born Arabella is sent with her mother and sisters back to Earth to be groomed into a more marriageable young lady. Events, however, intervene. Before too long, Arabella is in boy-drag as a crew member on the Diana, a venerable ship of the line that has both a brown captain and a proto-computer navigator. Then the thrilling adventure really begins.

And it is a thrilling adventure, for readers young and old. Levine, who's won a Hugo and been nominated for a fair chunk of other genre awards, crafts countless moments that are sweepingly cinematic and convey that old sensawunda. His characters sometimes struggle with having all three dimensions – but that may be more a result of the story's Jane Austen-meets-Patrick O'Brien feel. There is a sense of propriety here that frequently only shows our characters' stiff upper lips.

Still, there's no doubt that Arabella of Mars is a product of a 21st century writer, one who clearly does think young women are worthy heroes in a way that Austen and her cohort did not. While there is a wedding in the end (or hints of one, at least), that isn't Arabella's primary goal. Instead she's driven by a love for her family and for adventure, no matter where it may take her.

Arabella of Mars

by David D. Levine
Tor Books, 352 pp., $25.99

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