Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Arabella of Mars by David Levine

Jury duty update: I was briefly juror number five until I got kicked out on a defense peremptory basically for hanging out with lawyers too much. Even though I can talk about the case now I won't, because the crime had a weird parallel to the end of my work in progress, and I've been struggling with it. The whole experience was completely awesome, however, because I spent the breaks reading one of the best books I have read this year:

Arabella of Mars

This book is sort of like what you'd get if you took one cup of Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars, one cup of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom stories, steeped them in a cask of Patrick O'Brien for a fortnight and blended them with some pure imagination.

Yes, this is a book lovers' book. If you like books -- such as the books I linked, or similar ones -- you'll adore this one. It's got everything!  Old fashioned retro adventure! Regency romance! Diversity and progressive gender roles! A strong female character who is nevertheless quite feminine despite impersonating a boy for a while, and who lacks superhuman powers, although she's very clever and at one point wins a fight due to a combination of luck and greater familiarity with gravitational adjustments. A swoony love interest from India. An amazing steampunk sailing ship that can travel to Mars, with a crew of weightless sailors floating around wearing ankle tethers.

The author gets Arabella's colonial childhood just right. Your parents came here thinking they were going to exploit the natives and live like kings, but then they gave birth to their very own native-born child, forever floating on the cusp between local and hostile invasive species. The Martians in the tale are a female-dominant proud warrior species (with a strong personal responsibility code) relegated to working for the English colonists as maids and nannies, and at one point there is a fearsome uprising.

I'm glad I was able to squeeze one more book into my eyeballs before making my Hugo nominations, as this one is going right to the top of the list.

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