Tag: David D. Levine

Arabella and the Battle of Venus (Adventures of Arabella Ashby #2)

Cover image for Arabella and the Battle of Venus by David D. Levineby David D. Levine

ISBN 978-0-7653-8282-5

“Her husband-to-be was a prisoner of war. This matter could not be allowed to stand.”

Arabella and Captain Singh’s wedding plans are put on hold when Captain Singh is sent to Venus by the Honorable Mars Company just as Napoleon escapes his prison on the moon. Captain Singh is caught in enemy territory at the outbreak of hostilities, and is promptly captured and held prisoner on the French colony. When Arabella learns that Joseph Fouché, the Executioner of Lyon, will take charge of the English prisoners on Venus, she engages the privateer Daniel Fox, and his ship Touchstone, to get her Venus first. With only her wits and a banknote for five hundred pounds, she must try to arrange the release of Captain Singh, and Diana’s crew before their brutal new gaoler arrives.

The first part of Arabella and the Battle of Venus focuses on the voyage to the French colony from Mars. Accustomed to the polished and well-oiled operation aboard Diana, Arabella finds herself displeased with Touchstone’s more slovenly crew. Worse, Captain Fox’s navigation skills cannot hold a candle to her own, and Arabella is desperate to reach Venus as quickly as possible. But Captain Fox will only agree to try her course if Arabella will wager a kiss and a private dinner if her plan does not bring them to Venus faster than his planned route. As in Arabella of Mars, Levine focuses a great deal of attention on the sailing aspects of the narrative, creating an atmosphere that might be best described as Patrick O’Brian in space.

The second act is more about characters and intrigue, as Arabella arrives at Venus, only to have nothing go as planned. Adrift on a foreign planet, where she does not speak the languages or know the customs, and where her English banknote is no good, Arabella finds she may have bitten off more than she can chew. Not only is Diana’s crew being held prisoner, they are being forced to work in a labour camp that is contributing to the creation of a new weapon that may alter the course of the war. If Arabella can discover the details, she may be able to save English dominance of the skies from Napoleon’s rapacious appetite for conquest, but she cannot see how she will manage that while also getting two ships and their crews off a blockaded planet.

Fans of the dashing and honourable Captain Prakash Singh may be disappointed with his small role, especially in the first part of this narrative. Instead, Arabella makes her way to Venus in the company of the also handsome but not precisely honourable privateer and gambling friend Daniel Fox. With her chaperone Lady Corey constantly questioning Arabella’s choice of fiancé, and Captain Fox perpetually trying to get Arabella to gamble her favours in exchange for his cooperation, Arabella is unaccountably intrigued by the scoundrel. Even after her arrival on Venus, Captain Singh practically sabotages his own cause, refusing to entertain Arabella’s escape plans, or include her in his own doings. Unfortunately, Captain Fox looks set to make a prominent appearance in the third installment of the series.

Some quibbles about the romantic subplot notwithstanding, Arabella and the Battle of Venus is an excellent second outing in Levine’s original series, which combines adventure and intrigue with alternate history, as well as considerable character growth for the heroine. I’m thoroughly looking forward to the trilogy’s conclusion, which will hopefully be released next year.

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Arabella of Mars

Cover image for Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine by David D. Levine

ISBN 9780765382818

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher. All quotes have been checked against a finished copy.

“Here she could exercise her mind in a way her mother, indeed all of English society, would never tolerate in a girl or even a grown woman. In these moments all shame at her continued deception fell away, replaced by anger at the opportunities denied her by her sex.”

Born and raised on Mars, Arabella Ashby find herself dragged by to Earth so that her mother can turn her into a proper English lady before it is too late, and she destroys her marriage prospects with her tomboyish behaviour. But when her home and family on Mars are threatened, Arabella disguises herself and takes a job as a captain’s boy aboard the Marsman Diana in order to get herself home as soon as possible. But the journey between Earth and Mars is not without its dangers, and every delay threatens the timeliness of her news, or the revelation of her secret. And there is no time to waste, for the life of a family member hangs in the balance. (Aside: Levine summarized the plot of his novel in a filked version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Alexander Hamilton”. You can watch it on my YouTube channel!)

David D. Levine at University Bookstore Seattle, July 29, 2016
David D. Levine at University Bookstore Seattle, July 29, 2016

David D. Levine sets Arabella of Mars in an alternate Regency England that follows from a history in which Captain William Kidd set out for the first expedition to Mars in the 1600s. This is a universe in which the space between planets is occupied not by a vacuum, but by air. Speaking at University Bookstore Seattle on July 29, Levine readily admitted this was a fantastic alteration. In reality the physics of such a universe would send the planets spiraling into the sun. Two hundred years later, the English colonial presence on Mars is well-established, and children such as Arabella and her brother Michael are Martian-born humans who have never seen their home planet of Earth, or their parents’ native England.

Mary Jo Putney’s blurb on the back of the book describes this novel as the “delicious love child of Jane Austen, Patrick O’Brian, and Jules Verne.” The first comparison is perhaps the biggest stretch. The book is set during the Regency period, and an entailed estate does feature prominently in the plot, but in tone and action, there is really no similarity. But the action is reminiscent of Verne, and Levine credits the inspiration for the airship aspects of the novel to O’Brian’s books, and a great deal of attention is lavished on the sailing and navigation parts of the tale. Additional research was done at the  Musée national de la Marine, in Paris.

Levine employs an old sci-fi version of Mars that predates our current knowledge of the red planet. It is home to Martians, though much of the story is set among humans, and aboard Diana in transit between Earth and Mars. Levine still dedicates a decent amount of attention to the development of his Martians. They are made up of different groups and have a variety of languages. Many have learned English, but few humans return the favour. Levine also reverses the genders, casting the Martian females as hunters and warriors, though most English refuse to perceive the difference, and will hire female Martians only as nannies. It is as such we meet the main Martian character, Khema, who was tutor and caretaker to Arabella and Michael. While Levine does some good development of Martians as a whole, Khema is unfortunately the only individuated Martian character, and one of few named.

Levine is best known as a writer of short stories, and Arabella of Mars is his debut novel. He describes Arabella herself as having burst from his brow fully formed and armoured, already entirely herself. He immediately recognized it as a novel-sized idea, but thought it might be Young Adult. Tor decided to publish it as adult fiction, but with no sex and all curse words dashed out Regency-style, it has good crossover appeal for younger readers. Arabella of Mars was written to stand alone, but with the possibility for sequels. Tor has purchased two more books, and the second Arabella adventure is due out next year. It will see Arabella take passage from Mars to Venus aboard Captain Daniel Fox’s ship Touchstone.

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