Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Book Review: Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space, by Philip Reeve (Bloomsbury, 2007)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Larklight is the first in a 'tween steampunk trilogy by Philip Reeve, and I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into this book. Steampunk? Pirates? Pass that book over!

I was not disappointed. A great read for both boys and girls interested in science fiction and fantasy, Larklight offers a little something for everyone. The main character, Art Mumby, is a boy of about 11 or 12 who lives with his 14-year old sister, Myrtle (who is a very big part of the storyline - no wallflower female characters in this book!) and their widowed father upon Larklight, a floating home in space. The story takes place during the Victorian era, and the British Empire has colonized space. Aetherships cruise the skies much as Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge hunted ships in the waters on earth.

Mr. Mumby, a xenobiologist, agrees to a meeting with a correspondent who refers to himself as "Mr. Webster" - when he arrives, the family learns too late that Mr. Webster is an evil space spider bent on taking the family hostage. He and his spider army trap Larklight and Mr. Mumby in their webs, but Art and Myrtle escape, ultimately ending up with a band of space pirates led by a Jack Havoc, a teenager with his own troubled past, and a band of aliens that have thrown their lot in with Jack. Running from the Empire, Jack ultimately joins Art and Myrtle on their quest to save their father and find out what made them the target for Mr. Webster in the first place.

Aside from the constant action and wonderfully Victorian narrative, there is mech and steam aplenty for steampunk fans. Giant, mechanized spiders, steam-driven aetherships with alchemic reactions to propel them into space (called "the chemical wedding"), and an assault on Queen Victoria - what more could a kid possibly ask for?

I appreciated Reeve's creating strong female characters to balance out the strong male characters. At first, Myrtle appears to be written solely as an antagonist for Art, but she emerges as a strong, clever character on her own - it's interesting to see her character evolve within the course of the story. Ssil, one of Jack Havoc's alien crew, is a female who has no idea where her origins lie, giving mystery to the character, but at the same time, communicating a sense of loss to the reader. She has only the family she creates around her, but longs to know who she is. While scientific men are assumed to be the only ones capable of performing the "chemical wedding" that propels aetherships into space, Ssil performs it with ease - indeed, she is the only member of Jack's crew who can do it.

There are two sequels to Larklight, also by Reeve: Starcross and Mothstorm, that I expect I shall be picking up shortly. The film rights for Larklight have been bought and a film is due out in 2013.

Philip Reeve's website is pretty straightforward - the usual links to an author blog, the author's books, and more information on his newer series, Mortal Engines.

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